LOS ANGELES – Vanessa Bryant, widow of basketball great Kobe Bryant who was tragically killed along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26, has filed a lawsuit against the operators of the helicopter.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, February 24, the same day the nation saw images of Vanessa Bryant valiantly paying tribute to her late husband and 13-year old daughter, and the other victims of the tragic accident at a memorial service the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Gianna Bryant’s basketball teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Altobelli’s parents John and Keri, Payton’s mother Sarah, and basketball coach Christina Mauser were also killed.
The lawsuit names Island Express Helicopters, Island Express Holding Corp and the estate of the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was among the victims.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the exact cause of the crash, although preliminary findings showed no sign of mechanical failure.
The lawsuit blames the company for allowing the helicopter to fly in “heavy fog and low clouds” the morning of the accident, conditions which even prompted “law enforcement agencies and tour companies” to ground their helicopters.
“On information and belief, Island Express Helicopters Federal Aviation Administration’s operating certificate limited its pilots to flying only under visual flight rules,” the lawsuit says.
“The subject helicopter was not licensed or certified to be flown into instrument conditions. On information and belief, the pilot-in-command, Ara George Zobayan, was required to fly only in conditions that he could navigate visually.
“Ara George Zobayan attempted to maneuver the helicopter up and forward to clear the clouds then entered a turn, sending the helicopter into steep terrain at approximately 180 mph,” according to the suit. “Witnesses on the ground reported seeing the helicopter flying through a layer of clouds and fog before the helicopter crashed.”
The lawsuit notes that in 2015 Zobayan was cited by the FAA for violating the visual flight rules minimums by “flying into an airspace of reduced visibility from weather conditions”.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified general, economic and punitive damages.