Kobe Bryant’s widow sues Long Beach-based helicopter operator for deaths

The widow of Kobe Bryant has sued the Long Beach-based owner of the helicopter that crashed in fog and killed her husband and her 13-year-old daughter last month.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant in Los Angeles says the pilot was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions Jan. 26 and should have aborted the flight.

The lawsuit names Island Express Helicopters Inc. and also targets pilot Ara Zobayan’s legal representative, listed only as “Doe 1” until a name can be determined.

Island Express owned the helicopter, a twin-engine Sikorsky S-76, that was carrying Bryant, his 13-year-old  daughter Gianna and seven other passengers to a youth basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks when it crashed on a hillside in foggy weather.

Zobayan was among the nine people killed in the crash.

Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit asserts that Zobayan was negligent in eight different ways, including failing to properly assess the weather, flying into conditions he wasn’t cleared for and failing to control the helicopter.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

The lawsuit was filed as a public memorial service for Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and all the victims was being held at the Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant with his daughter, Gianna (second from left) at a recent basketball game in the Walter Pyramid. Photo by Stephen Dachman.

Island Express was founded in Long Beach in 1982 and is the only tour company offering scheduled helicopter flights to Catalina. The company offers services from its heliport near the Queen Mary and in San Pedro. The choppers land at the Pebbly Beach heliport near the city of Avalon.

The company issued a statement Jan. 30 on its website saying the shock of the crash had prompted it to suspend service until it was appropriate for staff and customers.

Calls to Island Express seeking comment Monday were not answered and its voicemail was full.

In May 2008, Island Express saw another fatal crash when its Eurocopter AS-350 took off from Long Beach and went down near the Banning House Lodge at Two Harbors.

The crash killed the company’s pilot, Emeric Maillet, employee John Terry, and Tania Hurd, a school teacher from Burbank. Three others were injured.

Associated Press reporter Brian Melley and Long Beach Post reporter Kelly Puente contributed to this story.

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