While Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna have understandably led the headlines from Sunday’s devastating helicopter crash, it is important to keep in mind that seven other people also lost their lives in the tragedy. Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the aircraft, was among them.
Zobayan has been identified as the man who was flying the helicopter at the time it crashed in hilly terrain in Calabasas. In addition to being a pilot, Zobayan was also a flight instructor. Upon learning of his death, many friends and former students of Zobayan’s took to social media to share positive memories of the 50-year-old. Darren Kemp, one of Zobayan’s former students, told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant considered Zobayan his most trusted pilot.
“He doesn’t let anyone else fly him around but Ara,” Kemp said.
Kemp said Zobayan had an impact on in his personal life as well as with his flying, as Zobayan also helped Kemp through his divorce and convinced him not to give up on flight school.
Sunday’s crash is still under investigation, but it has been confirmed that Zobayan was flying under special VFR, or special visual flight rules. Those rules allow helicopters to fly in conditions where visibility is an issue, which appears to have been the case with the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas. KTLA’s Christina Pascucci, who is also a licensed pilot, says public records show Zobayan was rated to fly in those types of conditions.
Also, according to records, Ara was instrument rated. That means he was rated to fly in fog/clouds.
— Christina Pascucci (@ChristinaKTLA) January 27, 2020
Zobayan also appeared on an episode of “Celebrity Wife Swap” back in 2013. Fellow pilot Lorenzo Lamas teased the episode on Facebook at the time by telling people to “Tune in to ABC this Sunday 8pm to see Ara and me fly Andy Dick’s baby momma around on ‘Celebrity Wife Swap’ lol.” Lamas was friends with Zobayan, and Lamas was included in a photo that accompanied a Facebook tribute written by Jared Joachim, another pilot and friend of Zobayan’s.
“Ara was an incredible pilot, instructor pilot, charter pilot and truly a great man. He was not your typical egotistical helicopter pilot like most of us honestly are,” Joachim wrote. “Ara was a man that always remained cool, calm and collected. As more people that knew Ara open up about him, you’ll only hear words like professional, calculated and loving. He was always good for a laugh.”
Bryant traveled by helicopter frequently, and the explanation he gave for doing so is now gut-wrenching. If Zobayan was the pilot Kobe trusted to fly him and his loved ones around, you can bet there was a good reason for it.