Island Express Helicopters temporarily halts Catalina service
Helicopter involved in the crash killing Kobe Bryant and eight others was part of the Island Express fleet; Ara Zobayan, who helmed the fateful flight, was the company’s chief pilot.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect a correction made by one of the sources used in this report.
LONG BEACH—The sole helicopter service from the mainland to Catalina Island will be grounded temporarily, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and multiple news sources. Island Express Helicopters, which is based in Long Beach and offered quick flights to and from Catalina Island, owned the helicopter involved in the crash killing former NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, a college baseball coach and six others.
No timeline has been given as to when Island Express Helicopters would resume its service from San Pedro to Catalina.
Ara Zobayan, Island Express Helicopters’ chief pilot, was at the helm of the Jan. 26 helicopter flight from John Wayne Airport to Ventura County. He had been with the company for 10 years and logged more than 8,000 flight hours, according to a statement released by Island Express Helicopters.
“One of our helicopters, N72EX, Sikorsky S76, was involved in an accident on Sunday, January 26th in the Calabasas area of LA County. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot,” Island Express Helicopters staff said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was our chief pilot. Ara has been with the company for [more than] 10 years and has [more than] 8,000 flight hours.”
The Log reached out to a spokesperson with the Catalina Island Co. to confirm details about the helicopter company’s decision; she deflected The Log’s request to the NTSB.
Long Beach Post reported Island Express Helicopters would be halting its Catalina Island service, quoting the same spokesperson contacted by The Log.
“[A] Catalina Island Company spokesperson … confirmed that the company has suspended its service. It is not clear when operations will resume,” the Post article stated. The same spokesperson would not confirm or deny this information for The Log.
“[A] Catalina Island Company spokesperson … confirmed that the company was not flying to the island Wednesday [Jan. 29]. An employee for Island Express said the company on Wednesday [Jan. 29] suspended its service and it is not clear when operations will resume,” the Post article stated.
Catalina Island’s Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau had sent out a member communication email on Jan. 29, shortly after the Post story was published. The email advised all chamber members to avoid contact with members of the media, with relation to Island Express Helicopters.
Keith Holloway, NTSB’s public affairs officer, was not immediately available for comment.
Questions about whether Island Express Helicopters decided to pause its Catalina Island service was made internally or if the company was directed to stop operations (for the time being) by the NTSB or another agency were not answered.
The Post story, which was published on Jan. 29, stated this is not the first fatal crash involving the Island Express Helicopters fleet. Its Eurocopter AS-350, which flew out of Long Beach, reportedly crashed near Banning House Lodge at Two Harbors almost 12 years ago. The pilot and two others were killed in the crash, according to the Post; three others were reportedly injured.
A helicopter ride from San Pedro’s Berth 95 – one of Island Express Helicopters’ terminals – to Avalon is about 15 minutes long; Island Express Helicopters offered round-trip tickets for $300.
Island Express Helicopters began offering flights from the Southern California mainland to Catalina Island in 1982 and maintained a fleet of four turbine helicopters. It offers flights from Burbank, Long Beach, Orange County and San Pedro.