LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The operator of the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas in January, killing Laker legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, is filing a suit of its own alleging air traffic controllers are responsible for the crash.

The lawsuit filed by Island Express alleging the two air traffic controllers committed a series of “erroneous acts and/or omissions” that caused the Jan. 26 crash in the foggy hills of Calabasas.

The FAA says it does not comment on pending litigation. Island Express says they have no further comment.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky S76B with a tail number N72XE flown by pilot Ara Zobayan, took off from John Wayne Airport and was headed for Camarillo Airport that morning. The complaint notes that Zoboyan was familiar with the route and had often flown it for Bryant on previous occasions.

CALABASAS, CA – JANUARY 26: Investigators work at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA star Kobe Bryant on January 26, 2020 in Calabasas, California. Nine people have been confirmed dead in the crash, among them Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Because of decreased visibility, the helicopter hit hilly terrain near Calabasas and caught fire. None of the nine people on board the helicopter survived the crash.

“The pilot’s workload and stress level in deteriorating weather conditions were unnecessarily overloaded by… multiple errors,” the lawsuit said. The problems were compounded by the second air traffic controller “monopolizing” Zoboyan’s attention during a critical phase of the flight by making multiple radio calls, requiring transponder identification and asking the pilot where he was and where he intended to be.

The lawsuit alleges that Zoboyan had requested flight following, but the request denied by the first air traffic controller, who said “I’m going to lose radar and comms probably pretty shortly so you can just squawk V-FR- and when you get closer go to Camarillo tower.” According to the lawsuit, the denial of Zoboyan’s request was improper because radar contact had not been lost and services were being denied based on the possibility they might be lost at some point in the future.

Three minutes later, Zoboyan spoke to a second air traffic controller who told the pilot “…we gonna go ahead and start our climb to go above the uh layers and uh we can stay with you here,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit further claims that air traffic controller did not inform his colleague to the existence of the helicopter in the area and “critical time was lost as [he] struggled to identify N72EX with no help.”

The lawsuit claims Zoboyan thought he was receiving radar services at the time of the crash because he said he was going to “climb above the layers and stay with you.”

Several lawsuits have been filed against Island Express in the crash.

Comments (12)
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  2. Carey Mitchell says:

    Sounds like BS to me. The ‘hills’ in between look to be not over about 2000 feet in height. Its easy for a chopper to fly above that. The pilot should have known the altitude of the hills and stayed above that altitude – period.

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