In a statement posted to their website, Island Express Helicopters said the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was the company’s chief pilot and had been with the company for more than a decade — logging more than 8,000 flight hours.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” the statement said. “Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot. We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time.”
The company said it was working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation that has shifted from the site of the crash to a salvage yard in Phoenix where the wreckage was brought earlier this week. That investigation will focus on how and why that helicopter crashed into the side of a Calabasas hill.
According to Thomas Anthony, director of the USC Aviation Safety and Security Program, investigators will likely be looking into weather conditions and the pilot’s fitness to fly that day, among other things.
“We can say there was mountain obscuration, low ceilings and visibilities, yes,” he said. “But then, what were those things that led in this decision chain to put the aircraft in this position.”
Thomas currently teaches a class on aircraft accident investigations, working with students from across the world hone their skills as they piece together what happened at crash sites.
But the biggest lesson he said he teaches his students is one that all good investigators know: never jump to conclusions.
“Let the evidence take you by the hand to the solution and to trust the process, to trust the discipline,” he said.
The NTSB has said it hopes to have a preliminary report out in about nine days, though it will not include the cause of the crash.