Kobe Bryant Crash: Helicopter Company Now Suing Air Traffic Controllers

Following Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, his wife Vanessa filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express, the company that operated the aircraft. Island Express has now filed a suit of its own. The company is suing two air traffic controllers who they claim caused the crash.

According to TMZ, the suit claims that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash, asked the first air traffic controller for radar guidance. The helicopter was flying in very heavy fog at the time. The suit says that one of the controllers responded by saying "I'm going to lose radar and comms probably pretty shortly, so you can just squawk VFR [visual flight rules] and when you get closer, go to Camarillo tower." The company also claims that the controller denied the use of life-saving radar.

The suit also claims that the second air traffic controller soon replaced the first. Zobayan reportedly radioed in "less than two minutes later," but the second controller was "unhelpful and uninformed." Island Express claims in the suit that Zobayan believed he was still operating on the radar because the tower operators did not clearly state that it was terminated. He then reportedly lost radio and radar contact in the fog.

Finally, the suit claims that radio contact came back and that the controller tried reaching Zobayan repeatedly. This allegedly caused the pilot additional stress. The aircraft ultimately crashed in the Calabasas hills, killing Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Zobayan, Alyssa Altobelli, John and Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester and Christina Mauser.


In addition to Vanessa's wrongful death lawsuit, the Altobelli and Mauser families have filed a lawsuit against Island Express and claimed that the helicopter tours are the reason for their loved ones' deaths. The suit says that the company was negligent in the hiring of Zobayan, as well as the decision to fly in the weather conditions the day of the crash. The families claim the company "breached its duty to own, lease, manage, maintain, control, entrust, charter and operate" the helicopter at the center of the crash.

Vanessa's suit made similar claims about the hiring of Zobayan. She also singled out citations against the pilot by the FAA in 2015 for flying into airspace of reduced visibility. "On information and belief, Defendant Island Express Helicopters employed Defendant Zobayan with conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others and authorized or ratified his wrong conduct, and itself engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud," Bryant's suit read.