Vanessa Bryant Is Taking Legal Action Against Helicopter Company

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.

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