Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against Island Express Helicopters, the company operating the aircraft that crashed in January, killing Bryant's husband, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven other people on board.
The lawsuit alleges the passengers were killed as a direct result of the "negligent conduct" of the helicopter's pilot Ara Zobayan, who was also killed in the crash, making the company "vicariously liable in all aspects."
Zobayan was Bryant's longtime pilot. The 27-count complaint argues he failed to abort the flight, monitor the weather, and keep a safe distance between the helicopter and natural obstacles, noting Zobayan was cited in 2015 for violating visual flight rules minimums, the Los Angeles Times reports. The suit reportedly seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, last month on a morning that was described as intensely foggy.
The chartered Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that crashed Sunday, killing Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people it was ferrying across Los Angeles, did not have a recommended warning system designed to alert the pilot the aircraft was too close to the ground, National Transportation Safety Board officials said late Tuesday. The helicopter, flown by experienced pilot Ara Zobayan, crashed into the side of a hill in Calabasas soon after Zobayan told flight controllers he was flying higher to get above thick clouds.
"This is a pretty steep descent at high speed," said the NTSB's Jennifer Homendy. "We know that this was a high-energy impact crash." The NTSB did not fault Zobayan or question his decision to continue flying in thick fog, though some other pilots did, and it's not clear a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) would have prevented the crash. Zobayan, 50, had flown the same Orange County to Ventura County route numerous times, including on Saturday, though the fog compelled him to veer from his normal route.
By the end of Tuesday, the bodies of all nine victims and the wreckage of the helicopter had been recovered, and Bryant, Zobayan, John Altobelli, and Sarah Chester had been identified via fingerprints. Along with Bryant, Altobelli, and Chester, the helicopter's passengers were 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, and Christina Mauser.
The NTSB had recommended that all helicopters be equipped with TAWS after a Sikorsky S-76A crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston in 2004, killing all 10 people on board, but the Federal Aviation Administration decided after 10 years to only require the warning systems on air ambulances. "The NTSB said FAA's response was unacceptable, but dropped the matter," The Associated Press reports. Peter Weber