Kobe Crash Copter Company Blaming ATC

 - August 26, 2020, 2:14 PM

The company that operated the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed and killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight others in January is blaming the accident on air traffic controllers. In a cross-complaint filing with a California superior court in Los Angeles, Island Express Helicopters alleges controllers at the Southern California Tracon (Socal), failed to continue to provide VFR flight following to the accident helicopter and asserts that the controllers’ actions “are the proximate cause of the accident.”

The complaint alleges that a controller improperly denied flight following, telling the accident pilot, “I’m going to lose radar and comms pretty shortly, so you can just squawk VFR and when you get close to Camarillo tower.” Shortly after that transmission, the controller was relieved by another controller. The complaint alleges the intial controller's denial was improper: “The fact that [accident aircraft] N72EX was able to contact Socal four minutes later, and its transponder was still observed by the controller, proves that the prediction of lost contact was not accurate and services could and should have been provided continuously.” 

Shortly after the relief controller went on station, the accident pilot informed Socal that he was “gonna go ahead and start out climb between the layers and uh we can stay with you here.” The complaint alleges that “critical time was lost as [the relief controller] struggled to identify N72EX with no help from [the first controller]” and that “the accident was caused by [the first controller's] failure to properly terminate radar services” and by the failure of [the controllers] to properly execute position relief briefing.” The complaint goes on to allege that pilot workload and stress were exacerbated by ATC’s “negligent acts and/or omissions.”