Helicopter company in Kobe Bryant crash sues 2 air traffic controllers

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Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif on Jan. 26, 2020. (Associated Press)


The company operating the helicopter that crashed in January — killing retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others — is suing two air traffic controllers who it says are to blame for the accident, according to multiple reports.

Island Express Helicopters alleges the crash was the result of “a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions” by two air traffic controllers at the Southern California TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control).

A cross-complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court last week.

“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,” the cross-complaint said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif on Jan. 26, 2020. (Associated Press)

The controllers, who weren’t named, worked at Southern California TRACON, a San Diego-based facility that is part of the air-traffic control operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, the paper reported.

Island Express is already facing a series of lawsuits from the families of Bryant and other crash victims. The company claims in the new lawsuit that one of the air traffic controllers declined Zobayan’s request for radar assistance prior to the deadly crash — which it characterized as a mistake.

The complaint also alleges that both the first air traffic controller and his replacement failed to properly communicate the circumstances during a shift change before the crash.

It adds that one of the air traffic controllers failed to properly terminate radar services, leading Zobayan to believe he was still being monitored, and that air traffic controllers “would have warned him of unsafe proximity to terrain,” according to the LA Times.

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Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, right, drives on Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz at Staples Center in Los Angeles, April 13, 2016. (Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, right, drives on Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz at Staples Center in Los Angeles, April 13, 2016. (Getty Images)

“These errors were compounded by [one of the controllers] monopolizing the Pilot’s attention during the critical phase of the flight by making multiple radio calls, requiring transponder ident, and requesting the Pilot to state where he was and what his intentions were,” the cross-complaint said. “The combination of increased stress, workload, and distraction significantly impacted the Pilot’s ability to fly the aircraft.”

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter piloted by Zobayan crashed and went down in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas on Jan. 26, killing everyone on board. They were on their way to a girls basketball tournament in which Gianna Bryant was playing.

Though Zobayan said the helicopter was climbing, a National Transportation Safety Board performance study said it was actually descending, according to the paper.

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Bryant would have turned 42 on Sunday. The NTSB’s investigation of the crash is ongoing.



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