Island Express Helicopters suspends flights after deadly Calabasas crash killing 9

Island Express Helicopters is suspending its flights to Catalina after one of its helicopters crashed in Calabasas-- taking the life of Kobe Bryant and eight others, including the company's chief pilot, Ara Zobayan.

The company tells FOX 11 the decision to temporarily stop flying is for "operational purposes."

In a statement on its website the Long Beach-based company says it's working closely with the NTSB to investigate the cause of the accident.

“It brought chills to my spine,” says Juan Ortega, a FOX 11 engineer who just this week shared his story.

Ortega coincidentally flew in the same Sikorsky s-76 with pilot Zobayan just months ago.  

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A selfie shows Ortega with his wife in november of 2019 moments before boarding the helicopter in Long Beach.

Little did he know then, the chopper, with call sign N72EX, would be the one carrying Kobe, Gianna, Christina, John, Keri, Alyssa, Sarah and Payton.

The Ortegas say their flight to Catalina, also delayed by fog, and also with nine people on board, was smooth. Ortega credits pilot Zobayan, saying “he definitely knew what he was doing. He was calm.”

Since 1982, Island Express Helicopters has been providing flights to Catalina from San Pedro and Long Beach.

No word on when flights will resume.