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Vanessa Bryant sues helicopter operator for deaths

AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File

Kobe Bryant’s widow sued the owner of the helicopter that crashed in fog and killed the former Los Angeles Lakers star and their 13-year-old daughter last month as she publicly mourned their deaths Monday in an emotional public ceremony.

Posted: Feb 24, 2020 12:54 PM
Updated: Feb 24, 2020 12:56 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant’s widow sued the owner of the helicopter that crashed in fog and killed the former Los Angeles Lakers star and their 13-year-old daughter last month as she publicly mourned their deaths Monday in an emotional public ceremony.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant in Los Angeles Superior Court said the pilot was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions Jan. 26 and should have aborted the flight that killed all nine people aboard.

The lawsuit names Island Express Helicopters Inc. and also targets pilot Ara Zobayan’s representative or successor, listed only as “Doe 1” until a name can be determined.

The lawsuit asserts Zobayan was negligent in eight different ways, including failing to properly assess the weather, flying into conditions he wasn’t cleared for and failing to control the helicopter.

It was filed the morning that a public memorial service for Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and all the victims, including Zobayan, was held to a sold-out crowd at Staples Center, the arena where Bryant played most of his career.

Late night host Jimmy Kimmel read Zobayan’s name among the victims and encouraged donations to a fund set up for their families.

Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and six of their friends were on their way to a basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy when the helicopter crashed.

Zobayan, Bryant’s frequent pilot, had been trying to navigate in heavy fog that limited visibility to the point that the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments had grounded their helicopter fleets.

Under the visual flight rules that Zobayan was following, he was required to see where he was going. Zobayan was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2015 for violating those rules by flying into reduced visibility airspace, the lawsuit said.

In his last transmission, Zobayan told air traffic control that he was climbing to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) to get above the clouds. He was 100 feet (30 meters) short of breaking through the cloud cover when the helicopter banked left and plunged into a grassy hillside, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB hasn’t concluded what caused the crash in Calabasas, on the outskirts of Los Angeles County, but said there was no sign of mechanical failure. A final report isn’t expected for a year or so.

Calls to Island Express seeking comment were not answered, and its voicemail was full.

The company issued a statement Jan. 30 on its website saying the shock of the crash had prompted it to suspend service until it was appropriate for staff and customers.

Island Express has had at least three previous helicopter crashes since 1985, two of them fatal, according to the NTSB’s accident database. All involved flights to or from the company’s main destination of Santa Catalina Island, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the Southern California coast.

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