Lakers Legend Kobe Bryant And Teen Daughter Among Nine People Killed In Helicopter Crash

Petey Reina of Los Angeles holds an image of Kobe Bryant at L.A. Live outside the Staples Center on Sunday. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Kobe Bryant, the NBA legend who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships over a 20-year career, was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas this morning. He was 41 years old.

Bryant was among nine people who died in the crash. Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told KPCC/LAist that Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was aboard the helicopter and also died.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Daryl Osby said emergency responders arriving at the crash scene discoved a debris field in steep terrain and a half-acre brush fire. Osby said firefighters hiked in with rescue equipment but found no survivors.


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Earlier in the day, there were news reports that five people were killed in the crash. At a news conference Sunday afternoon, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said eight passengers and the pilot were on the flight manifest for the Sikorksy S-76B.

Villanueva refused to comment on the identities of those on board and was sharply critical of news reports — specifically citing TMZ, which was the first to report that Bryant was on the helicopter that crashed.

Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner officials said Sunday their investigators were at the scene "recovering the bodies of the people who died in the crash."

"Additionally, investigators are working on confirming the identities of the helicopter occupants," according to a release on the department's website. "Their names will be released following official verification and notification to their next of kin."

L.A. County's Medical Examiner-Coroner, Dr. Jonathan R. Lucas, said at a Sunday night news conference that he expected that process to take days.

But as hours passed on Sunday, the names of some of the other passengers were shared by colleagues and friends.

THE PASSENGERS

Bryant's daughter, Gianna, was an up-and-coming player in her own right. She played with the Los Angeles Lady Mambas, which was coached by Bryant and is part of a co-ed youth basketball league he created in partnership with the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club. The team plays at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where the group was heading Sunday morning for a tournament.

Gianna, also known as Gigi, recently posted an Instagram video of herself in action.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Gianna Bryant (@gigibryant2) on

Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa confirmed that its head baseball coach, John Altobelli, died in the crash. Later, college officials said Altobelli's wife, Keri, and his daughter, Alyssa, were also aboard the helicopter and killed. Alyssa Altobelli was a teammate of Gianna Bryant's on the Los Angeles Lady Mambas, a girls' team coached by Kobe Bryant.

"John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball," Orange Coast College Athletic Director Jason Kehler said in a statement. "He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none — he treated them like family. Our deepest condolences go out to the Altobelli family during this time of tragedy."

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said on Twitter that she had learned Christina Mauser was among those killed in the crash. Foley said Mauser was a coach and the wife of Matt Mauser, lead singer for the Tijuana Dogs, a popular Orange County band. Matt Mauser had been scheduled to perform at the Brea Imrov Sunday evening.

The venue called off the show, saying: "Due to unforeseen circumstances, this event has been cancelled."

THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Osby said the Fire Department received a call at 9:45 a.m. reporting a helicopter down and a brushfire in the hills above Los Virgenes Road near Willow Glen Street. Osby said it took about nine minutes for firefighters to hike extremely steep terrain to the site.

A photo from the LA County Sheriff Department's Twitter feed shows the site of helicopter crash. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Other firefighers were lowered to the scene from a sheriff's helicopter after the initial responders reported the presence of magnesium from the crash — magnesium can react explosively when it comes into contact with oxygen and water.

THE SCENE AND INVESTIGATION

In a Sunday evening news conference, Villanueva laid out the next steps in the investigation, saying it would be an "extensive process, its going to take not just days but weeks to recover from this."

He said the Federal Aviation Administration had established a five-mile perimeter around the crash site. He called the scene "a logistical nightmare" due to a combination of the crash site being hard to access and the swell of people trying to make their way to the scene.

"We have to reiterate, it is off-limits to everybody except the first responders and the investigators," said Villanueva, who warned the area had steep terrain that made it dangerous even in daylight.

He said road closures were in effect and identification would be required of local residents trying to access the area. The closures, until further notice, are:

  • Las Virgenes Road, between Agoura Road and Lost Hills Road.
  • North and southbound exits to 101 at Las Virgenes Roads

He directed community members who want to express condolences to De Anza Park in Calabasas.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The National Transportation Safety Board said they expected to have a investigators on site in Calabasas by Sunday evening.

Weather may play a role in the inquiry. The Los Angeles Times reported that thick fog in the region Sunday morning prompted the LAPD to ground its helicopters and the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. also did not have helicopters in the air because of weather conditions.

In the last decade, according to the NTSB's database of accidents, Sikorsky-made helicopters have been involved in 11 fatal incidents worldwide that killed a total of 48 people. Four of those incidents took place in the U.S. The highest previous fatality toll — 14 — came in a 2012 crash of a different model Sikorsky helicopter. That aircraft, a Sikorsky S-58, disappeared over the Andes in Peru in a region with heavy cloud cover before searchers discovered the wreckage in a remote site.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today's Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California," Sikorsky officials said in a tweet sent Sunday. "We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer."

THE REACTION

Twitter and other social media were overwhelmed by reactions to Bryant's death.

The Lakers, who lost in Philadelphia on Saturday night, returned to Los Angeles on Sunday. Television news coverage showed videos of players arriving at LAX hugging their teammates and other officials.

Bryant's last tweet was a congratulatory message to Lakers star LeBron James, who surpassed Bryant for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list during the Lakers' 108-91 loss to the 76ers on Saturday.

Scene at Staples Center after word spread of Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash Sunday morning. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

This story was updated throughout the day as new information was reported.

HOW WE REPORTED ON THIS

Sharon McNary was on scene at the crash site in Calabasas. Caroline Champlin gathered reaction at the Staples Center. Kyle Stokes, A Martinez, Julia Paskin, Pablo Cabrera and Fiona Ng reported from our Pasadena newsroom. Tony Marcano and Megan Garvey edited.

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