The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others that crashed into a rugged hillside outside Los Angeles was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies grounded their choppers.
The helicopter plunged into a steep hillside at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday with an impact that scattered debris over an area the size of a football field and killed all aboard. The accident unleashed an outpouring of grief from admirers around the world who mourned the sudden loss of the all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying the passengers was bound to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Bryant coached his daughter and other teammates.
Also killed in the crash, according to CNN:
- Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant
- John Altobelli, 56, baseball coach at Orange Coast College
- Keri Altobelli, wife of John Altobelli
- Alyssa Altobelli, the Altobellis’ daughter and one of Gianna's basketball teammates
- Christina Mauser, basketball coach at Harbor Day School, Gigi Bryant’s school
- Payton Chester, a middle school student
- Sarah Chester, Payton Chester’s mother
- Ara Zobayan, pilot
John Altobelli, known as "Coach Alto," had been the school's coach for the past 27 years, Orange Coast College confirmed.
"It's hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department," OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said. "John was a tremendous coach and an even better friend. Beyond that, he was an amazing mentor to all of the students and athletes that he taught and coached. He treated them all like family and his impact will live on forever."
Altobelli was about to start his 28th season with the Pirates.
Jeff McNeil, an infielder for the New York Mets, paid tribute to Altobelli and called him "one of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball."
Matt Mauser, husband of victim Christina Mauser, paid tribute to his wife on Facebook:
Thousands of fans, many wearing Bryant jerseys and chanting his name, gathered outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and site of Sunday’s Grammy Awards where Bryant was honored.
The 41-year-old Bryant was one of the game’s most popular players and the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers.
The cause of the crash was unknown, but conditions at the time were such that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff’s department grounded their helicopters.
The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications can be made.
Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m. and circled for a time just east of Interstate 5, near Glendale. Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest.
After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, they cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S Route 101, the Ventura Highway.
Shortly after 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2,000 feet. It then descended and crashed into the hillside at about 1400 feet, according to data from Flightradar24.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots, or about 184 mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, the data showed.
The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks was holding a basketball tournament on Sunday.
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams. He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
His Lakers tenure was marred by scandal when in 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, and retired in 2016.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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