Man whose wife, daughter died in crash that killed Kobe Bryant sues helicopter owner

Matthew Ormseth
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles — Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter died in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, has sued the company that operated the helicopter and the estate of the deceased pilot.

Sarah Chester, 45, and 13-year-old Payton died Jan. 26 when the Sikorsky S-76B carrying them and seven others plunged into a hillside in Calabasas. Everyone onboard was killed.

In a complaint filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Chester made an argument similar to those raised in lawsuits filed by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and two other families: The craft’s operator, Island Express Helicopters, was negligent in allowing the pilot, Ara Zobayan, to fly in “adverse weather conditions,” Chester’s attorneys alleged.

In this Jan. 26, 2020 photo, firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas, Calif.

Chester, who lives in Orange County with his twin sons, is seeking unspecified damages from Island Express Helicopters and Zobayan’s estate.

An attorney for Island Express Helicopters didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In response to the lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant, Zobayan’s brother Berge Zobayan said in a court filing Monday that in boarding the helicopter, the basketball star and his fellow passengers made a “knowing and voluntary encounter with the risks involved.”

Also in court papers filed Monday, attorneys for Island Express Helicopters said everyone onboard knew the “particular dangers” of traveling by helicopter but voluntarily assumed them. The crash, moreover, was an “unavoidable accident,” the company’s attorneys said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the crash, said the Sikorsky’s engines showed no signs of serious failure. With fog shrouding the Santa Monica Mountains the morning of the crash, Ara Zobayan had requested special permission from air traffic controllers to fly in low-visibility conditions.

Just before the craft slammed into a hillside, Zobayan told an air traffic controller he intended to climb above the cloud layer to 4,000 feet, according to the NTSB.

Zobayan, 50, had worked for Island Express Helicopters for 10 years, logging about 8,200 hours of flight experience at the time of his last medical examination, the NTSB said. The helicopter, manufactured in 1991, was up to date on inspections, according to the agency.