Kobe Bryant crash: Helicopter company sues air traffic controllers, blaming them for crash that killed 9 people

Island Express Helicopters filed a cross-complaint against two air traffic controllers at TRACON which gives air traffic control services to airports in the region and blamed them for the crash


                            Kobe Bryant crash: Helicopter company sues air traffic controllers, blaming them for crash that killed 9 people
Kobe Bryant (Getty Images)

The company that operated the helicopter that was involved in the crash killing Kobe Bryant and eight others have filed a cross-complaint against two air traffic controllers, as per court records. Island Express Helicopters is suing the two air traffic controllers who they say are to blame for the deaths. The suit, which was filed last week in a California Superior Court, the company alleging that the crash that occurred on January 26 had been the result of "a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions" by the two air traffic controllers at TRACON, which gives air traffic control services to airports in the region, USA Today reveals.

The helicopter company is currently facing several lawsuits from Kobe's family, as well as the families of other victims in the fatal crash. The victims include Kobe, his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Gianna's teammate Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, another of Gianna's teammates Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan. The group was on their way to Thousand Oaks for a basketball match. As per ABC, the lawsuit states that pilot Zobayan had reached out to the SoCal TRACON facility and had asked for "flight following" or radar assistance but the air-traffic controller had denied the request and said, "I'm going to lose radar and comms probably pretty shortly."

Investigators work at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA star Kobe Bryant on January 26, 2020, in Calabasas, California. Nine people have been confirmed dead in the crash, among them Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Getty Images) 

The lawsuit adds, "This denial was improper because radar contact had not been lost and services were being denied based on the possibility that they might be lost at some point in the future. The fact that (the pilot) was able to contact (TRACON) four minutes later, and its transponder was still observed by the controller, proves that the prediction of lost contact was not accurate and services could and should have been provided continuously."

The lawsuit also states that the first air controller who spoke to Zobayan had been relieved a short time later by a second controller. The first controller did not inform his replacement about the "existence" of the helicopter even though he had not "terminated radar services" with the helicopter. This had led the pilot to assume that he was still being surveilled and had flight following. The cross-complaint read, "Had [the controllers] not engaged in the numerous negligent acts and/or omissions stated herein, then the Pilot [Ara Zobayan] would not have been forced to respond to multiple [air traffic control] requests and commands during the most critical phase of the flight." 

Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada (Getty Images) 

We had earlier reported that the pilot Zobayan had no alcohol or drugs in his system on that fateful day. Zobayan was flying the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter when it crashed into a hillside in Calabasas in California. Toxicology reports had screened and tested for cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, marijuana, and alcohol, reports from the LA County coroner revealed. The cause of death for the nine victims was listed as blunt trauma and the manner of death was ruled as an accident. Kobe and his daughter Gianna are survived by his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their three kids: Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 10 months.

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