Families of four people who died in helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter file wrongful death lawsuits against company that employed pilot

  • Two wrongful death suits filed against Island Express Helicopters Inc 
  • NBA great Kobe Bryant, 41, was killed in crash alongside his daughter, Gianna, 13 
  • John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, died in the horrific crash in Calabasas, California, on the morning of January 26
  • Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at an elementary school, another player, Payton Chester, and her mother Sarah Chester all died in the accident
  • Pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, who had more than 10 years experience, was ninth victim 
  • Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, filed wrongful death suit on February 24 – the same day that public memorial was held for victims at Staples Center
  • Bryant’s lawsuit alleges Island Express and Zobayan, who flew that day despite heavy fog, were negligent in the deaths 

The surviving relatives of four of the victims who died in the January helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter in Calabasas, California, have filed separate wrongful death lawsuits against the company which owned the aircraft.

The families of John Altobelli, 56; his wife, Keri Altobelli, 46; and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli, 14; and of Christina Mauser, 38, both filed suit against Island Express Helicopters Inc, according to TMZ.

Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, filed a similar wrongful death lawsuit against the company in late February.

The two new lawsuits allege that Island Express was negligent in failing to uphold its duty to ‘own, lease, manage, maintain, control, entrust, charter, and operate the helicopter in a reasonable manner.’

Family members of coach John Altobelli, his son J.J. Altobelli from left, with his fiancee Carly Konigsfeld and his daughter Lexi Altobelli, speaks at a memorial service honoring their father John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa who were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on February 10 in Anaheim

Christina Mauser’s (pictured) next of kin have also filed a lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters Inc

The Mauser family and the Altobelli family mourned their loved ones who perished alongside Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna (seen above in January 2019)

Nine people in total, including the pilot, were killed when the chopper crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, on the morning of January 26. An NTSB investigator is seen above at the crash site on January 27

As a direct result of the company’s negligent behavior, the families say that their loved ones died in the crash.

The lawsuits seek damages for physical, emotional, and mental anguish as well as for lost wages that the victims could have potentially earned had they lived.

The three remaining victims who perished in the crash were the pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50; Sarah Chester, 45; and her daughter, Payton Chester, 13.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant in Los Angeles Superior Court in late February said the pilot was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions Jan. 26 and should have aborted the flight that killed all nine people aboard.

The lawsuit names Island Express Helicopters Inc., operator of the service, and Island Express Holding Corp., owner of the craft.

Mauser is survived by her husband, Matthew, and their three children

It also targets pilot Ara Zobayan’s representative or successor, listed only as ‘Doe 1’ until a name can be determined.

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

The lawsuit asserts 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.

It was filed the morning that a star-studded public memorial service for Kobe Bryant, his daughter and all the victims, including Zobayan, was held before a sold-out crowd at Staples Center, the arena where Bryant played most of his career.

Late night host Jimmy Kimmel read Zobayan’s name among the victims and encouraged donations to a fund set up for their families.

Plaintiffs have two years to pursue a wrongful death claim in California, which made the timing of the lawsuit unusual.

‘That is a bit odd,’ aviation attorney Robert Hajek said.

‘I don’t know what the strategy of that would be.’

Attorneys for Vanessa Bryant would not comment on why they filed the case on the day of the memorial service.

Zobayan, Bryant’s frequent pilot, was flying the basketball star, his daughter Gianna, and six of their friends to a basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas.

Zobayan had been trying to navigate in heavy fog that limited visibility to the point that the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments had grounded their helicopter fleets.

Bryant never indicated anything was awry with the flight as he texted just before the crash, his friend and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said at the memorial.

Under the visual flight rules Zobayan was following, he was required to see where he was going.

Zobayan was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2015 for violating those rules by flying into reduced visibility airspace, the lawsuit said.

Ara Zobayan (above), the pilot, was named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Kobe Bryant’s widow

Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death suit against Zobayan and Island Express on February 24 – the same day in which she appeared at a public memorial at Staples Center to honor =her late husband and daughter as well as the other seven who died in the crash 


Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli (left), 56, longtime head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri (left, with John); and daughter, Alyssa (right), who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter

In his last transmission, Zobayan told air traffic control that he was climbing to 4,000 feet to get above the clouds.

He was 100 feet short of breaking through the cloud cover when the helicopter banked left and plunged into a grassy hillside, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB hasn’t concluded what caused the crash on the outskirts of Los Angeles County but said there was no sign of mechanical failure.

A final report isn’t expected for a year or so.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Vanessa Bryant’s grief, sorrow, loss of companionship and funeral expenses, among other things.

It also seeks punitive damages to ‘deter future wrongdoing,’ the lawsuit said.

‘Acts and omissions of the defendant has manifested such reckless and complete indifference to and a conscious disregard for the safety of others.’

The lawsuit said Island Express Inc. was liable for the actions of the pilot, who had worked there 10 years.

It said the company failed to supervise and train him, allowed him to fly in unsafe weather and didn’t implement reasonable flight safety rules and policies.

Another young player, Payton Chester (left), was also killed in the crash along with her mother Sarah Chester (right)

It asserted the helicopter owner failed to install an alarm system that would have warned the pilot he was close to hitting the ground.

The NTSB has recommended that helicopters like the Sikorsky model that crashed be equipped with a terrain avoidance and warning system, but the FAA only requires it for air ambulances.

Island Express Inc. issued a statement January 30 on its website saying the shock of the crash had prompted it to suspend service until it was appropriate for staff and customers.

The company has had at least three previous helicopter crashes since 1985, two of them fatal, according to the NTSB’s accident database.

All involved flights to or from the company’s main destination of Santa Catalina Island, about 20 miles off the Southern California coast. 

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