On the morning of Jan. 26, basketball great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven other passengers were headed to a youth basketball practice via helicopter. Conditions were foggy but the pilot was using special visual flight rules, meaning that he was using visual landmarks for at least part of the trip. However, area police had grounded their helicopters and there was a weather advisory requiring instrument flight.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, California. None of those on board survived.
The crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), but it would have been up to the pilot and the helicopter company to decide whether to fly in poor visibility and whether to use instrument-guided flight.
In February, Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa sued the helicopter operator for wrongful death. She alleged that Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. had been negligent in allowing the flight to go forward. The pilot in the crash had apparently been disciplined in 2015 for violations of federal flight rules. Nevertheless, he flew without instruments into hazardous weather conditions and, according to Vanessa Bryant, the company authorized him to do so, thereby violating its own duty to ensure the helicopter was flight-ready.
Now, the families of some of the other passengers on board have followed with their own wrongful death suit against Island Express. They claim that Island Express’s carless, negligent and unlawful conduct caused the crash and the deaths of their loved ones.
A spokesperson for the company said it would not comment on pending litigation.
When it sifted through the debris, the NTSB reportedly found no evidence of an engine failure, but the investigation is ongoing.
Because the investigation is not complete, it is difficult to know whether the crash was the result of the weather, pilot error, or other factors. If the pilot had indeed been disciplined for violating federal flight rules in the past, it may have been negligent for Island Express to continue to let him fly.
We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.