NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
PHOTO BY ARCHIVE
CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA – The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others before crashing into a hillside was flying in foggy conditions, according to reports.
The 41-year-old Bryant was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in the helicopter crash at around 9:45am on Sunday. There were no survivors.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but foggy conditions that morning reportedly forced police to ground their helicopters.
Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, a teammate of Bryant’s daughter.
Orange Coast College assistant coach Ron La Ruffa told CNN that Altobelli would routinely travel with his daughter for games.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley tweeted that the dead also included Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school. Her husband, Matt Mauser, founded the Tijuana Dogs, a popular Orange County band. In a Facebook post he said: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”
Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, estimated that it would take at least two days to recover the remains in the rugged terrain.
“It’s a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a news conference late Sunday, adding that the investigation could be a “very extensive process.”
Bryant was traveling to a basketball game with his daughter, Gianna, who was scheduled to play on Sunday afternoon. With them was Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his with wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, Altobelli’s brother told CNN. Alyssa was Gianna’s teammate, OCC assistant coach Ron La Ruffa told CNN. Altobelli would routinely travel with his daughter for games, La Ruffa said.
“We have lost a member of our OCC family, and our hearts are broken,” OCC President Angelica Suarez said in a statement. “Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus – a beloved teacher, coach, colleague and friend. This is a tremendous loss for our campus community.”
Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9am 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 US Route 101, the Ventura Highway.
Shortly after 9:40am, the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2000 feet. It then descended and crashed into the hillside at about 1400 feet, according to data from Flightradar24.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Tony Imbrenda said he didn’t immediately have information about whether the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter radioed a distress signal.
“Individuals that saw the aircraft said it was coming down at a fairly significant rate of speed and impacted the ground on the hillside,” he told reporters.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4000 feet per minute, the data showed. The chopper went down in Calabasas, northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Federal transportation safety investigators will be looking at all angles, including the pilot’s history, and the records of the helicopter and its owner and operator, said National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy at a news conference. The aircraft was built in 1991, according to authorities.
Kurt Deetz, a pilot who used to fly Bryant in the chopper, said the crash was more likely caused by bad weather than engine or mechanical issues.
“The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn’t happen,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
News of Bryant’s death shocked the world, with many taking to social media to express their grief.
“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” retired NBA great Michael Jordan said. “We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”
Meanwhile, heartbroken fans have been pouring into the areas surrounding the site, sending condolences on social media and paying tribute to Bryant, who first made history when he became the youngest player in NBA history.
Players and fans in Phoenix observed a moment of silence for Bryant before the Phoenix Suns game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. A moment of silence was also taken before the game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history. He played his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers and won five NBA championships, before retiring in April 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final game. On Saturday, Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
Bryant 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. Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
Born in Philadelphia, Bryant quickly grew to become one of basketball’s greatest champions. Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called him a “chosen one—special in many ways to many people.”
“Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil,” Jackson said.
Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters—the youngest of which was born in June.
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