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Helicopter Company in Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant and 8 Others Files Countersuit, Blames Air Traffic Controllers


Getty Images: “A view of the screen during a tribute to victims of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant during the BET Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at the James L. Knight Center on January 30, 2020 in Miami, Florida.”

Island Express Helicopters, the company being sued in a high-profile fatal helicopter crash, has filed a countersuit. The company blames two air traffic controllers for the crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers.

The January 26 crash in the hills of Calabasas was due to “a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions” by the cross-defendants, said the new lawsuit. The pilot of the helicopter, Ara Zobayan, requested a procedure called flight following, but was denied, according to this countersuit.

From the complaint, dated August 19:

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 N72EX [the helicopter] was able to contact SOCAL [Southern California 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.

According to the complaint, one of the air traffic controllers failed to brief the other one–his replacement–about the existence of the helicopter, and delayed “re-identification” of the aircraft and the provisions of services to Zobayan.

Again, from the complaint:

Zobayan thought he was still receiving radar services at the time of the accident. And because the Aeronautical Information Manual defines radar monitoring as “the use of radar for the purpose of providing aircraft with information and advice relative to significant deviations from nominal flight path,” the Pilot would have operated the aircraft under the assumption that ATC [air traffic control] was monitoring his flight and would have warned him of unsafe proximity to terrain.

Other alleged errors included: “(1) failure to properly communicate termination of radar flight following, (2) incomplete position relief briefing, and (3) lack of knowledge of current weather conditions,” as well as one air traffic controller “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.”

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration told Law&Crime in an email that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Nine people died in the crash:

Vanessa Bryant, widow to Kobe and mother of Gianna, filed a lawsuit in February, saying it was Zobayan who caused the crash through negligence. The Altobelli and Mauser families filed separate lawsuits, also against Island Express, in April. The family of Payton and Sarah Chester filed a fourth complaint in May.

[Image via Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET]

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