The California company that owned Kobe Bryant’s doomed helicopter is due to receive more than $600,000 in federal stimulus money meant to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Island Express Helicopters received a grant for $603,838 in “total anticipated payroll support” on May 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s online records confirm.
The Long Beach-based operator closed its doors after the crash and has been the subject of several lawsuits since the tragedy claimed the lives of the NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, including the pilot.
Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death claim in February, naming Island Express and the estate of pilot Ara Zobayan as defendants.
She alleged Island Express was only certified to fly under visual flight rules, meaning with adequate visibility, so the foggy conditions the day of the crash should have grounded the chopper.
The company answered the lawsuit May 11, arguing it wasn’t liable for any damages.
“Kobe Bryant and (Gianna Bryant) had actual knowledge of all of the circumstances, particular dangers, and an appreciation of the risks involved and the magnitude thereof, and proceeded to encounter a known risk, and voluntarily assume the risk of accident, injury and damages,” the filing obtained by the New York Daily News said.
It said the tragic crash and any damages to Bryant’s family were caused by “unforeseeable” events “beyond the control of and unrelated to any actions or conduct” of the helicopter’s owners.
When contacted by the Daily News, Island Express attorney Ross Cunningham said, “Thank you for the inquiry, but we have no comment.”
The Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner released the final autopsy reports for all nine victims Friday, confirming that Zobayan was sober at the time of the horrific crash.
“Toxicological testing did not detect the presence of alcohol or drugs of abuse,” Zobayan’s final report obtained by the Daily News said.
Zobayan, 50, was tested for “benzodiazepines, cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, marijuana, opioids, phencyclidine and amphetamines,” the paperwork said.
The cause of death for all nine victims was “blunt trauma,” the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed.
In the case of Bryant, he likely died upon impact, officials said.
“These injuries are rapidly if not instantly fatal,” his report said. “Thermal burns present on the head, chest and extremities are postmortem and did not contribute to death.”
The Sikorsky S-76B crashed amid heavy fog just west of Los Angeles in Calabasas.
It was traveling at a high rate of speed when it hit steep terrain at 1,085 feet and burst into flames, officials said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what happened exactly, but it said in a preliminary report that investigators found no signs of “catastrophic” engine failure.
In his last radio transmission before the twin-engine craft crashed, Zobayan reported a plan to ascend to avoid a “cloud layer,” officials said.
The chopper then climbed to 2,300 feet — rising more than 750 feet in about 30 seconds — and began a descending left turn at high speed, officials said.
“We know this was a high-energy impact crash, and the helicopter was in a descending left bank,” NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said shortly after the crash.
“This is a pretty steep descent at high speed, so it wouldn’t be a normal landing speed,” she said.
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