Charter companies blame air controllers in Kobe Bryant crash


CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 26: Wreckage of the crashed helicopter that was carrying former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna smolders on the ground on January 26, 2020 in Calabasas, California. According to reports, five people including Bryant and his daughter have been confirmed killed in the crash. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The companies that operated and owned the helicopter in which Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed claim Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers were responsible for the crash in extremely cloudy weather last January.

Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. claim in a cross-complaint that there were errors or omissions by controllers and that the pilot had to respond to multiple requests and commands at a critical time, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The FAA said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The filing was made last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, has sued the pilot, Island Express and the owner of the craft for negligence. Family members of four other passengers have also sued the companies.

The Sikorsky S-76B crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles, while flying to a youth basketball game on Jan. 26. In addition to Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed, including the pilot, Ara Zobayan.

The cross-complaint claims a controller at Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control facility improperly terminated radar services and led the pilot to believe he was still being surveilled, the Times said.

Another controller compounded the problem by 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.”

Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit, filed in February, said the pilot shouldn’t have flown in those conditions and should have aborted the flight.

Zobayan’s brother responded to that lawsuit in a court filing that said Kobe Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate.

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