Helicopter Company Sues Air Traffic Controllers over Kobe Bryant Crash

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistAugust 25, 2020

Memorabilia for NBA star Kobe Bryant are placed at a memorial for Bryant while fans gather to pay their respect near Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

The company that operated the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others when it crashed and killed everyone on board is suing the air traffic controllers. 

Per TMZ Sports, Island Express' lawsuit claims the air traffic controllers are responsible for the Jan. 26 crash in Calabasas, California:

"The helicopter company claims the 2 air traffic controllers who were guiding the pilot to the Mamba Academy were asked by the pilot asked for radar guidance, presumably because of the heavy fog. According to the lawsuit, the controller on duty responded by saying, 'I'm going to lose radar and comms [communications] probably pretty shortly so you can just squawk V-F-R [visual flight rules] and when you get closer go to Camarillo tower.'

"The company claims the controller denied the pilot the use of what it believes is life-saving radar, despite the fact that radar guidance had not yet been lost.

"One of the air traffic controllers then relieved the other and according to the suit, less than 2 minutes later the pilot radioed in, but the new air traffic controller was unhelpful and uninformed."

TMZ noted the lawsuit also states Ara Zobayan, the helicopter's pilot, "believed he was still operating on radar" because Larsen and Conley didn't "clearly say" it was lost. 

In June, the National Transportation Safety Board compiled a report on the crash that stated Zobayan may have "misperceived both pitch and roll angles" because of low visibility caused by fog. 

"During the final descent the pilot, responding to [air traffic control], stated that they were 'climbing to 4,000,'" one report said. 

The NTSB hasn't released a final determination of what caused the crash. 

Bryant, his daughter Gianna, six other passengers and the pilot were all killed when the helicopter crashed into a hillside.