IEH, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed, was only certified to operate under visual flight rules, which mean pilots must be able to clearly see outside the aircraft in daylight, Kurt Deetz, a pilot and former safety manager at the company, told the New York Times.
The aircraft is equipped for instrument flying, however, the report said.
“There is only one way you can be in the clouds, on an I.F.R. flight plan or by accident,” Deetz told the newspaper, referring to instrument flight rules.
The helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, was licensed for instrument flying, most likely had little experience in doing so given the company’s operating limitations, Deetz told Forbes separately.
The twin-engine helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, amid visibility-limiting clouds and fog.
Air traffic controllers had given Zobayan “special visual flight rules,” or clearance to fly in the less-than-optimal weather around the Burbank airport.
The pilot had reported that visibility was sufficient for visual flight, the Times said, adding that the weather appeared to have worsened as the flight continued.
In a separate statement, Island Express Helicopters said it was suspending all services.
“The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers,” the charter company said.
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