Shortly before Kobe and Gianna Bryant's memorial service on February 24, Vanessa Bryant filed a 72-page lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters. Island Express is the company that owned the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26 amid foggy conditions, killing Kobe, Gianna, and seven other people on board, including pilot Ara George Zobayan.
Vanessa hasn't spoken out about Island Express Helicopters or Zobayan, but she has publicly shared her grief with the world. At the "Celebration of Life" for Kobe and Gianna, the mother of four delivered a heartfelt eulogy in their honor.
"We love and miss you, Boo-Boo and Gigi. May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven."
Bryant's suit names Island Express Helicopters and "Doe 1," a legal representative or successor for Zobayan, as defendants. It's unclear who "Doe 1" is, but it's common for this term to be used when a name can't be determined or is being withheld for legal reasons. BuzzFeed News reports that the pilot has been accused of failing to, quote, "properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff," "obtain proper weather data," and "abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions." He's also accused of "improperly" flying the helicopter in so-called instrument flight rules, or IFR conditions. TMZ reports that the suit also alleges that Zobayan was "disciplined in 2015 for violating the visual flight rule minimums by flying into an airspace of reduced visibility."
As for Island Express Helicopters, TMZ adds that the suit argues the helicopter shouldn't have been allowed to fly in the first place, given the low visibility. The legal filing alleges the chopper, quote, "was not safe." The company's helicopters were reportedly only certified for visual flight rules, or VFR, not IFR conditions.
"They do not do instrumentation flight. They have to do visual flight only. If it's less than 2,000 feet visibility, they're just not taking off."
The lawsuit also admonishes the business for not equipping its choppers with a terrain avoidance warning system.
Island Express Helicopters responded in a statement to TMZ, simply stating,
"This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending lawsuit."
The company has spoken out about the incident before, noting how it was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy. The company stated on its website shortly after the crash,
"Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot. We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time."
Island Express Helicopters also made it a point to commend Zobayan for working "over 10 years" with the company and clocking "over 8,000 flight hours."
As of Jan. 26, 2020, all of the company's helicopter services were suspended "until further notice." Island Express explained the decision, saying,
"The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers."
In light of the lawsuit, it's unclear how the company will fare going forward. The legal filing includes 28 complaints against Island Express and Zobayan combined, and seeks punitive damages, as well as, quote, "damages for loss of love, affection, care, society, service, comfort, support, right to support, companionship, solace or moral support and expectations of future support and counseling." Bryant is also seeking, quote, "money for loss of financial support and for burial and funeral expenses."
Amid the lawsuit news, investigators are still trying to piece together why Kobe Bryant's helicopter crashed. Engine failure has been ruled out as a possible cause, with the National Transportation Safety Board noting to CNN in early February 2020,
"Viewable sections of the engines showed no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure."
CNN transportation expert and former managing director of the NTSB Peter Goelz said of the findings,
"It really just reinforces the tragic nature of this crash. It was a perfectly good helicopter. It was well-equipped. And, unfortunately, it was flying in marginal weather. [...] Apparently the pilot got up into the clouds, realized that he was in a more difficult situation than he had planned on, and tried to escape. Or simply lost situational awareness."
Once the cause is determined, it could play a role in the lawsuit. We'll keep you updated as more details emerge.
Watch the video to see how Vanessa Bryant Is Taking Legal Action Against Helicopter Company.
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