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Helicopter company sues air traffic controllers in Kobe Bryant crash

Firefighters work to contain the smoldering wreckage of a helicopter crash that claimed the life of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others. File Photo by John McCoy/UPI
Firefighters work to contain the smoldering wreckage of a helicopter crash that claimed the life of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and eight others. File Photo by John McCoy/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The company that owned the helicopter that crashed earlier this year killing NBA star Kobe Bryant and eight others is suing two air traffic controllers over the incident.

The company, Island Express Holding Corp., accused Matthew Conley and Kyle Larsen of "a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions" that led to the Jan. 26 crash in Calabasas, Calif. The lawsuit was filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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The lawsuit says pilot Ara Zobayan's work load and stress level were exacerbated by Conley and Larsen's actions that day.

The Sikorsky S-76B crashed into the side of a hill about an hour after takeoff. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, but a transcript of Zobayan's communication with the air traffic controllers showed he was concerned about extensive fog and sought to climb above a layer of clouds.

Investigators believe he might have become disoriented and thought he was maneuvering the helicopter upward, above the clouds, but in reality was moving down toward the hillside.

The court document says the air traffic controllers made multiple radio calls to Zobayan while he was flying in the fog, "monopolizing" his attention. Lawyers also said one controller declined to provide flight following to the pilot, saying he was likely going to lose communication with the helicopter.

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"Had Larsen and Conley not engaged in the numerous negligent acts and/or omissions stated herein, then the pilot would not have been forced to respond to multiple requests and commands during the most critical phase of the flight," the complaint says.

The lawsuit was a cross-complaint in a lawsuit filed by Kobe Bryant's wife, Vanessa Bryant, against Island Express. She blamed the company for the crash because she said it put the helicopter in the air when conditions were not safe for flying. The suit also names Zobayan as a defendant.

In addition to Zobayan and Kobe Bryant, the crash killed the Lakers star's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant. They were traveling with friends to the younger Bryant's basketball game.

Also killed were Gigi's teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester and their family members, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Sarah Chester, and the team's assistant coach, Christina Mauser.

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