Island Express Helicopters has filed a lawsuit alleging that two air traffic controllers are responsible for the crash of a company Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that killed retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and eight others last January. The cross-complaint asserts that the accident was caused by “a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions” committed by the controllers, including a “… failure to properly communicate termination of radar flight following … incomplete position relief briefing, and … lack of knowledge of current weather conditions.” It further claims that a controller contributed to the crash by “monopolizing the Pilot’s attention during the critical phase of the flight by making multiple radio calls, requiring transponder ident, and requesting the Pilot to state where he was and what his intentions were.”
Island Express’ lawsuit (PDF) was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. The individuals listed in the filing are employed by the FAA as air traffic controllers at the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility (TRACON). To date, four lawsuits related to the accident have been filed against Island Express, including one by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, which alleges negligence by the pilot for flying in unsafe weather conditions.
As previously reported by AVweb, Island Express holds a Part 135 operating certificate for on-demand, VFR-only operations. A preliminary report (PDF) released by the NTSB last February stated that no evidence of mechanical failure had been found in the crash, which occurred on Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas, California. It further noted that visibility was poor in the area of the accident due to low clouds and mist. According to the report, the pilot had requested and received a special VFR clearance. The final NTSB accident report has not yet been issued.