As part of the probe into a fatal air crash, investigators look at the results of the pilot autopsy for traces of impairing drugs or alcohol. In the case of the pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was flying the Sikorsky S-76 that crashed in Calabasas, California, earlier this year, killing nine, including global basketball celebrity Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others, the results came back clean. There were no drugs or alcohol detected among the many the medical examiner tested for.
The results are not surprising in the aviation community. Based on interviews by news media with co-workers and friends, Zobayan, was well respected and well liked. The disconnect comes in explaining what happened during the flight, flight into conditions of very low or zero visibility and the subsequent loss of control, with Zobayan’s experience—he had thousands of hours of experience flying helicopters and more than a thousand hours flying the model that crashed that day.
In 2015, Zobayan did have a run-in with the FAA after he flew the same model of helicopter into Class B airspace at LAX without authorization. After the controller denied Zobayan’s request for a Special VFR clearance into LAX’s airspace, because visibility was below minimums for a such a clearance, Zobayan claimed his inflight visibility was three miles and proceeded into the Class Bravo airspace, this according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. The January 26, 2020, crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others was flown in conditions of similarly low visibility.
The other major finding of the autopsy was that that the occupants of the helicopter that crashed almost certainly died instantly, a finding that didn’t surprise anyone who had seen photos of the wreckage.
It typically takes a year for the NTSB to release a final report on a fatal crash. With highly visible accidents like this one, it often takes even longer.