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- Winner: Peabody Award 2013; Edward R. Murrow Award 2011/Investigative Video Award
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It’s been a year since Laker legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas, California. The families were on their way to a youth basketball tournament when the pilot ran into dense fog and crashed into a hillside. The 26th. In January 2020, the crash led to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and several pending or ongoing civil lawsuits.
The following is a summary of the legal and investigative consequences of the accident and the current status of these matters:
The National Transportation Safety Board announced earlier this month that they would be considering the 9th. A closed session was scheduled in February to publicly discuss and determine the probable cause of the accident.
In the original accident report issued in February, the NTSB indicated that Ara Zobayan had taken off from John Wayne-Orange County Airport shortly after 9:00 a.m. in a Sikorsky S-76B bound for Camarillo, California, about 95 miles to the north. Video footage and photos taken by the public in the area of the accident show fog and low clouds obscuring the hilltops, the NTSB said in an initial report.
When he encountered a cloud, Zobayan told air traffic control that he would climb to 4,000 feet to look for a way out. Instead, he climbed 2,300 feet and then began to descend rapidly, turning left into the mountains. Although the helicopter was not equipped with a flight recorder or cockpit voice recorder, the NTSB estimates that the helicopter descended the ramp at more than 184 mph.
In addition to Bryant and his daughter, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa were also killed in the accident. Christina Mauser, basketball coach at Mamba Sports Academy, Sarah and Payton Chester, mother and daughter, and Zobayan were also killed in the accident.
Last May, the agency released more than a thousand pages of documents related to the accident and said there was no evidence of mechanical failure and no indication that Zobayan had alcohol or drugs in his body. The report indicates that Zobayan may have misunderstood the angles from which he descended and turned.
The NTSB’s Board of Directors will likely find that Zobayan had spatial disorientation due to poor visibility and was not qualified to fly in [instrument flight] conditions, said Tom Hauter, who has worked at the NTSB for 30 years, both as an investigator and for the past six years as the agency’s director of aviation safety.
Instrument Flight Rules, or IFR, is a set of rules that pilots follow when they must rely on their instruments for navigation because weather conditions do not allow for adequate visibility.
This man has gone too far, Hauter said. He’s not supposed to be in the clouds. He shouldn’t have been so close to the clouds …. I look at the current weather forecast and I think: Why the hell did you do that?
Zobayan worked for Island Express, a helicopter charter company, for nearly 10 years and logged more than 8,200 flight hours, including about 1,250 hours on the S-76 helicopter, according to the NTSB.
The NTSB may also make some safety recommendations as a result of this accident, Ms Hauter said.
According to Hauter, the Sikorsky S-76B, built in 1991, was not equipped with a warning system for avoiding and approaching terrain. Such a system would have warned Zobayan that he was dangerously close to the ground, even in poor visibility.
Field warning systems are readily available today and relatively inexpensive, Hauter said. I would not be surprised if it is determined on board that some sort of traffic map/track warning system is required for aircraft involved in such charter flights.
Next month’s NTVS board meeting will be held via webcast and virtually due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, the agency announced this month.
Claims for wrongful death
In February, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, filed a wrongful death suit against the estate of Zobayan and his employer, Island Express. In September, Bryant filed an amended complaint naming OP Helicopters, the agency that has organized the Bryant family’s trips for years, as an additional defendant.
Altobelli’s surviving parents, Mauser and Chester, have since filed similar wrongful death lawsuits against Island Express.
The lawsuits filed by Vanessa Bryant and others allege that Island Express and Zobayan were not allowed to fly according to instrument flight rules.
The pilot in charge, Ara George Zobayan, was only supposed to fly in conditions where he could visually navigate, Bryant’s lawsuit said, adding that witnesses on the ground reported seeing the helicopter fly through a layer of cloud and fog before it crashed.
Zobayan also did not obtain the correct weather data before the flight and aborted the flight while aware of the cloud cover, the lawsuit said.
Counsel for Bryant, Island Express Helicopters and Zobayan did not respond to a request for comment.
Kevin Boyle, an attorney for the Mauser and Altobelli families, told ESPN that the NTSB’s final findings on the probable cause of the accident would not be admissible evidence in wrongful death lawsuits, but he added that the NTSB’s factual information is admissible.
Jurors must draw conclusions during the trial, Boyle said.
The families of the accident victims state that OC Helicopters played a role in route planning during the first half of the fatal flight and did not abort the flight when weather conditions were unsafe.
While we at OCH continue to mourn this unimaginable loss, we categorically deny any responsibility for the accident, the company said in a statement released in September.
An attorney for OP Helicopters declined comment last week when contacted by ESPN.
The first wrongful death lawsuits were filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County. Since then, however, they have been sued in federal court after Island Express sued the air traffic controllers who communicate with Zobayan.
Iceland Express air traffic controllers
In August, Island Express filed a so-called counter-complaint in response to the wrongful death lawsuits filed by Bryant and other families, naming air traffic controllers Kyle Larsen and Matthew Conley as defendants. The counterclaim resulted in the transfer of the wrongful death claim to federal court because Larsen and Conley are federal employees. Island Express alleges that the accident was caused by a series of unlawful acts and/or omissions by both men.
Minutes before the crash, Zobayan went from communicating with the air traffic controller at Burbank Airport to his last point of contact during the Larsen flight, an air traffic controller at Southern California’s radar control terminal, which departed from San Diego, according to the filing.
The counterclaim filed by Island Express alleges that when Larsen last informed Zobayan of its flight path, Larsen improperly rejected Zobayan’s request to follow it and improperly assumed that it had terminated radar communication with the helicopter.
The accident was caused in part by Larsen’s failure to properly disconnect radar services, a circumstance to which Zobayan objected because he was still receiving radar services at the time of the accident.
Larsen, who finished his shift a few minutes before the accident, had also failed to properly notify Conley, the air traffic controller who replaced him, of the presence of Zobayan’s helicopter, the lawsuit said.
A Justice Department lawyer representing both Larsen and Conley did not respond to a request for comment.
Hauter, a former NTSB investigator, told ESPN it was the pilot’s responsibility to keep his distance from the scene.
Air traffic controllers must separate aircraft. They don’t necessarily separate planes from the ground, he said.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the 8th Circuit. A hearing was scheduled in April for a motion to dismiss the counterclaim against the two air traffic controllers. If this case is dismissed, the wrongful death claims will be remanded to Los Angeles County state court.
Claims arising from photographs taken at the scene of the accident
Shortly after the crash, the Los Angeles Times reported that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies shared photos of the crash site, including graphic images of the victims’ remains.
In September, Vanessa Bryant first sued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department for the photos for which she allegedly did not receive permission. She alleges negligence, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional harm, and violation of her 14th Amendment right to privacy. The Chester and Mauser families have since filed similar lawsuits, and both have added the Los Angeles County Fire Department as a defendant. The Altobelli family is expected to file a complaint in the coming months, said Boyle, who represents both the Mauser and Altobelli families.
At this unimaginable loss, no less than eight deputies present at the scene pulled out their personal cell phones and took pictures of the dead children, parents, and attendants. MPs took these photos for their own amusement, says Bryant’s lawsuit.
One MP even used his photos of the victims to impress the woman in the bar by bragging about how he got to the scene of the accident, the lawsuit shows.
Attorneys for L.A. County and Villanueva County did not respond to a request for comment.
In March, Villanueva said that when he learned of the photos, he ordered his deputies to remove them from their phones. Villanueva said that while the department has a policy prohibiting the taking and sharing of photos at crime scenes, that policy does not apply to crime scenes.
The process has already led to changes in the state of California. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation making it a criminal offense for emergency responders to film dead bodies at the scene of a crime or accident, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, for purposes other than official law enforcement.
This law came into force on 1 January. The month of January came into effect.
Vanessa Bryant sued her mother.
In December, Sophia Urbeta, Vanessa Bryant’s mother, sued her daughter in Orange County, California. Urbeta says she was never paid to be Vanessa and Kobe Bryant’s longtime personal assistant and work as a nanny for the couple’s four daughters.
Urbeta says that Kobe Bryant has promised to take care of her financially for the rest of her life in exchange for helping her raise her children, and that Vanessa has no intention of honoring those agreements.
The lawsuit shows that Mrs. Urbeta had an exhausting schedule to care for her grandchildren and was forced to work more than 12 hours a day without lunch or rest.
Urbeta also alleges that she was forced to sell her Newport Coast home, which the Bryants paid for and kept in her name, and that Vanessa Bryant defrauded her early last year by having her sell a car provided by the couple, forcing her to move into the house.
Counsel for Urbeta and Vanessa Bryant did not respond to requests for comment.
In December, Bryant took his mother’s case to court.
She was a grandmother who was supported by me and her son-in-law at my request, Bryant said in a statement at the time. Now she wants to pay me back $96 an hour because I supposedly worked 12 hours a day for 18 years to take care of her grandchildren. In fact, she only occasionally babysat my older daughters when they were little.
Financial experts estimate that Vanessa Bryant inherited control of real estate worth $600 million, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Information obtained from the Associated Press is included in this report.