Pilot Ara Zobayan (CNN)

Vanessa Bryant Files Wrongful Death Suit against Helicopter Operator in Kobe Bryant Crash


By Nathan Fenno

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times) — As mourners gathered at Staples Center on Monday, February 24, for a memorial service to celebrate the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter that crashed last month, killing her husband, daughter and seven others.

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleges that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash in Calabasas, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was negligent.

The lawsuit says the company’s “breach of its duty and negligence” caused injuries and damages and that the death of Bryant was “a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan,” which the company is “vicariously liable in all respects.”

The 27-count complaint, which also names Zobayan’s estate as a defendant, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. An attorney for Vanessa Bryant didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

While flying to a youth basketball game at Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks on January 26, the 1991 Sikorsky S-76B crashed into a hillside in Calabasas amid dense fog. Zobayan and all eight passengers aboard died. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found no engine or mechanical failure.

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The lawsuit accuses Zobayan, Bryant’s longtime pilot, of several acts of negligence including failing to abort the flight, failing to monitor and assess the weather, and failure to keep a safe distance between natural obstacles and the helicopter.

“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,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit notes that the Federal Aviation Administration cited Zobayan in 2015 for violating visual flight rules minimums and that the FAA operating certificate for Island Express limited its pilots to flying under visual flight rules, not conditions that necessitated the use of instruments.

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters authorized, directed and/or permitted with full knowledge that the subject helicopter was flying into unsafe weather conditions,” the complaint says.

It adds that the company “promoted and engaged in unnecessary and needlessly risky means of transport under the circumstances.”


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