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Pilot in Kobe Bryant crash wasn't responsible for deaths, brother says

Court filings on behalf of the brother, in response to a lawsuit by Vanessa Bryant, claim that Kobe Bryant knew of the risks of flying in a helicopter.
Image: LA county firefighters on the scene of a helicopter crash that reportedly killed Kobe Bryant in Calabasas
Los Angeles County firefighters on the scene of a helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020.Gene Blevins / Reuters file

The brother of the pilot of a helicopter that crashed in January, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, claimed in court documents filed Monday that the pilot shouldn't be held responsible.

The pilot, Ara George Zobayan, was also killed in the crash in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, on Jan. 26.

The documents, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in response to a wrongful death suit from the NBA star's widow, Vanessa Bryant, claimed that Kobe Bryant knew of the risks of flying in a helicopter and chose to anyway.

"This negligence was a substantial factor in causing their purported damages," according to documents filed Monday on behalf of Berge Zobayan, the pilot's brother.

In her suit, which was filed Feb. 24, Vanessa Bryant claimed that Zobayan and the company he worked for, Island Express Helicopters, put their Sikorsky S-76B in the air when conditions weren't safe for flying.

The suit alleges that Zobayan didn't evaluate weather data before taking off and didn't abort the flight in conditions that were so foggy that the Los Angeles Police Department grounded its fleet of helicopters until the afternoon.

Vanessa Bryant's legal team and a representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The helicopter company, Island Express, responded in court documents Monday saying that Bryant "had actual knowledge of all of the circumstances, particular dangers, and an appreciation of the risks involved" in the flight and still chose to board. They said they are not responsible and the crash was "an act of God."

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The hillside crash also killed Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli and his wife, Keri, whose daughter played basketball with Gianna, and Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach the girls' basketball team.

The families of Altobelli and Mauser sued last month, although they named only the helicopter company and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., as defendants.