Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late Kobe Bryant and mother to Gigi Bryant, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter company. The complaint alleges that the pilot, who also perished in the crash, operated the helicopter with negligence that resulted in the deadly crash. Bryant, who spoke at a memorial at the Staples Center this morning in Los Angeles, paid tribute to the loss of her husband and 13-year-old daughter.
But while the memorial was a cathartic and heartfelt tribute to the loss of a life that touched so many, Kobe Bryant’s death likely could have been avoided. Both Kobe and Gigi Bryant were killed in a helicopter crash last month near Calabasas, California on their way to a youth basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
The crash, which took the lives of 9 others—including pilot Ara Zobayan—was allegedly a result of the helicopter company and pilot’s negligence in-flight. A legal complaint with 27 counts filed against Island Express Helicopters and its umbrella, Island Express Holding Corp. alleges that its negligence resulted in the extensive damages and wrongful death of Bryant’s late husband and daughter—as well as the others onboard.
Zobayan was piloting a 1991 Sikorsky S-76-B when it crashed into a mountainside in Calabasas on the morning of January 26, 2020. On the morning of the crash, helicopter services around the Los Angeles area—including police helicopters—were grounded due to heavy fog in the area that restricted field of vision in-flight.
The lawsuit alleges that the crash was the result of negligence on behalf of both the helicopter company and its pilot, Ara Zobayan.
A report from the National Transportation Safety Board saw no technological failures from either the engine or mechanics of the helicopter, suggesting that the crash was the fault of the pilot and not due to a mechanical error that caused it to go down. The lawsuit, which claims that the company engaged in risky behavior that resulted in the deadly crash, lists both Zobayan and his estate as liable for the damages.
Also cited in the lawsuit from Vanessa Bryant was a reference to a citation issued to Zobayan in 2015 by the FAA over a weather-related issue. The citation, which occurred when Zobayan crossed the LAX airspace without permission during a weather restriction.
In the 2015 incident, Zobayan requested “special VFR” (visual flight rules), which allows a pilot to maintain their current path after being granted special permission by air traffic control. The status is granted to certain aircraft in the event of a weather restriction, but Zobayan was denied the permission in that instance.
On January 26th, Zobayan had also requested special VFR just before crashing the helicopter into the mountain. In the lawsuit, Bryant alleges that her husband was killed after the helicopter company engaged in “needlessly risky” operations. The lawsuit was filed by Vanessa Bryant on Monday, the same day as Kobe’s memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.