NBA legend Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA, on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Bryant was 41.
Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball game with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who was 13, when the helicopter crashed, sources said. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a news conference that there were no survivors, and according to the flight manifest, there were nine people on board the helicopter.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said Sunday afternoon that the Federal Aviation Administration was on the scene and will work with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the crash. He said authorities will not release the names of victims until they are identified and next of kin are notified.
Villanueva and Los Angeles County chief medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said later Sunday night that, given the terrain and condition of the crash site, they expect the recovery effort to take several days. After recovery is complete, the identification process can begin.
The cause of the crash is unknown. The helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PST. It was going to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for Gianna’s game, sources told ESPN. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 9:47 a.m.
Orange Coast College baseball coaching legend John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa were among the victims, the Altobelli family confirmed. Altobelli won four California community college titles in his 27 years at the school.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley tweeted that the dead also included Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school. Mauser’s 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.”
Also killed in the crash were Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, a middle school student, sources confirmed to ESPN. Riley Chester, Payton’s brother, posted a tribute to his family on Instagram on Sunday, writing, “Rest in Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”
The pilot, who has not been identified, was also killed.
The crash came one day after Bryant was passed by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James for third on the NBA career scoring list. As late as 10:39 p.m. ET Saturday, Bryant was active on social media, congratulating James on Twitter during the Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
A 6-foot-6 small forward with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA out of high school. In 1996, at age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history.
He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States. Now fourth on the NBA career scoring list with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and the regular-season MVP in 2008.
Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have multiple jerseys retired by a franchise.
On Nov. 29, 2015, Bryant announced that he intended to retire at the end of the season, which launched a farewell tour for the ages. He played in 66 games that season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points, leading the Lakers past the Utah Jazz 101-96.
Bryant married Vanessa Laine Bryant in 2001, and they had four daughters together. Their oldest, Natalia, is 17, and their youngest, Capri, is 7 months old. They also have a 3-year-old, Bianka. Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, is a former NBA player.
While Bryant was an unqualified star on the court, he had controversy off it. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The criminal case was dropped the next year, but Bryant still issued an apology. He said he considered the encounter to be consensual but recognized that the woman “did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
After his playing days ended, Bryant transitioned into a post-basketball life that was far from retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short Dear Basketball. He also created a children’s book series, inspired by his love for Harry Potter, and it became a New York Times bestseller.
People were glued to their phones and TVs around the world Sunday as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage.
Thousands of people remembered Bryant outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mourners in No. 24 jerseys mixed with those arriving at the downtown arena in fancy dress for Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. People carried flowers and chanted “Kobe!” and “MVP!” under giant video screens showing Bryant’s smiling face.
“This is where we needed to be,” said Naveen Cheerath, 31, who was among those who gathered downtown Sunday.
On Sunday morning, Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”
“It was very foggy, so we couldn’t see anything,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”
The fog then cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
Juan Bonilla, of Calabasas, said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.
Osby said firefighters found a quarter-mile brush fire when they hiked into the scene. Paramedics were lowered from a helicopter.
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.
The NTSB sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days of a crash that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of a crash can take a year or more.
Services for Bryant and his daughter are expected to be announced later in the week.