The company that operated the helicopter in the crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others has filed a cross-complaint against two air traffic controllers, according to court records obtained by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.
In the cross-complaint, which was filed in a California Superior Court last week, Island Express Helicopters alleges the January helicopter crash was the result of "a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions" by two air traffic controllers at the Southern California TRACON, which provides air traffic control services to airports in the region.
Island Express, which is facing a series of lawsuits from the family of Bryant and other victims in connection with the crash, claims that one of the air traffic controllers declined pilot Ara Zobayan's request for flight following prior to the crash — which the helicopter company characterizes as a mistake.
In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former Lakers star Kobe Bryant died along with eight others in Calabasas, California. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, AP)
The company also alleges that the first air traffic controller and his replacement failed to effectively communicate the situation during a shift change just prior to the crash.
USA TODAY Sports is withholding the names of the two air traffic controllers at the request of the FAA, which cited concerns over the employees' safety. Spokesperson Ian Gregor said the organization would not comment on the litigation.
The Sikorsky S-76 piloted by Zobayan crashed into the hills near Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, killing everyone aboard. In addition to Bryant and Zobayan, the deceased were: Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli and Christina Mauser.
The traveling party was headed to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, for a youth basketball game.
Toward the end of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant regularly traveled by helicopter, as air travel helped him avoid traffic while keeping his body fresh.
Bryant's widow, Vanessa, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters in February for "negligence" and alleged the deaths were a "direct result" of Zobayan's actions. Zobayan's estate filed documents two months later saying the passengers assumed and knew the risks of flying.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
Contact Chris Bumbaca at [email protected] or on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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