Vanessa Bryant Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Helicopter Company After Kobe & Gianna Killed
Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant were among the nine killed when a helicopter they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, California
Vanessa Bryant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter company that owned the aircraft in the tragic Jan. 26 crash that killed Kobe, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, along with seven others.
In a complaint obtained by PEOPLE that list Vanessa and her daughters as plaintiffs, Vanessa is suing Island Express Helicopters and claims that pilot Ara Zobayan of Huntington Beach, California, who was piloting the flight at the time of the crash and died, “failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff,” “failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions,” and “failed to properly and safely operate the helicopter resulting in a crash.”
The complaint also claims that Island Express Helicopters “knew or should have known” that Zoboyan had been previously cited by the FAA for violating “the visual flight rules minimums by flying into an area of reduced visibility from weather conditions.”
Alleging that Island Express Helicopters “knew or should have known” that they were prohibited from operating the helicopter under Instrument Flight Rules, the complaint also claims that the company “failed to have in place an adequate safety policy for cancellation of flights into unsafe weather conditions.”
Vanessa and her daughters are seeking general, economic and punitive damages.
In response to the lawsuit, a rep for Island Express Helicopters told PEOPLE, “This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending litigation.” Lawyers for Island Express Helicopters did not immediately reply to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Zobayan was piloting the flight at the time of the crash. He was also killed.
As the lawsuit notes, Zobayan was previously disciplined in 2015 for violating the visual flight rule minimums.
In addition to being a flight instructor, Zobayan had 20 years of flying experience in Southern California, according to The New York Times.
A source previously told PEOPLE that Zobayan was “extremely experienced” as a pilot.
“He had a lot of respect for flying and would never take risks. He knew the valley very well. The area where they crashed was not a new area for him. He was very familiar with that area,” the source said.
On the day of the crash, Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, at around 9:06 a.m., according to flight tracking site FlightRadar24.com.
Bryant and the group were on their way to a youth basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks.
At around 10 a.m. the helicopter crashed into a mountain, killing everyone on board.
During a press conference, Jennifer Homendy with the The National Transportation Safety Board announced that the aircraft — which had been flying in extremely foggy conditions — plunged over “2,000 feet per minute” before crashing.
Homendy went on to share that the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS).
TAWS is an on-board system aimed at preventing unintentional impacts with the ground. The system, which provides terrain information, could have alerted Zobayan that he was close to the hillside.
Homendy added that the helicopter was also not equipped with a cockpit voice recorders (CVR) and flight data recorders (FDR). Like TAWS, NTSB recommended the use of cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders to the FAA after a 2005 helicopter crash in the Baltic Sea that killed 12 people. The recommendation was also rejected, Homendy revealed.
An FDR preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters — while the CVR preserves the sounds of the cockpit, which can include conversations of the pilot.
NTSB also revealed that the aircraft could have avoided the hill had it been flying 20 to 30 feet higher.
However, NTSB investigator Bill English also noted that there were still surrounding hills that would have required an even higher altitude for clearance.
Multiple local residents told PEOPLE that the fog bank on the day of the crash, which finally started lifting at 11:30 a.m. local time, was thicker than they could ever remember seeing, with absolutely no visibility farther than 100 feet.
Scott Daehlin, who was first to contact the authorities about the crash, described witnessing the incident to PEOPLE, saying that it seemed as if the pilot was “trying to spot a landing.”
“All of a sudden I hear impact, crash, breaking fiberglass, plexiglass,” Daehlin said, adding that the helicopter rotors “immediately stopped” spinning. “It was over in a quarter second. Just went quiet.”
Vanessa previously announced that a fund for the families of the seven other victims — John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser in addition to Zobayan — had been set up through the Mamba Sports Foundation called the MambaOnThree Fund.