A team from the National Transportation Safety Board planned to make its way today to the hard-to-access hillside in Calabasas to determine why a luxury helicopter crashed in deep fog, killing retired basketball phenom Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and all of the other seven occupants. Bryant was 41.
The crash, in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street, was called in at 9:47 a.m. Sunday, said a watch commander at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lost Hills/Malibu station. The NTSB team flew to Southern California on Sunday night.
Sheriff’s officials said there were no survivors and that the crash sparked a small fire that was quickly extinguished.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the stricken helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76B. Ara Zobayan, an instrument-rated pilot who had more than 1,000 hours piloting the craft and was qualified to fly in fog, flew it. Friends were mourning him on social media, saying he taught aspiring helicopter pilots to fly.
The craft was built in 1991 and owned by Island Express Holding Corp. The S-76 was designed for corporate transportation, especially within the oil industry, where executives were traveling between land and off-shore drilling platforms, and was inspired by the UH-60 Black Hawk military helicopter.
The helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m., records show. The crash occurred in foggy conditions, which prompted the LAPD to ground its helicopter fleet, the nation’s largest such fleet. LAPD chopper flights began in the afternoon.
Bryant was on his way to a basketball game with daughter Gianna when the helicopter crashed.
One of the crash victims was Christina Mauser, an assistant basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar. Her husband, Matthew Mauser, who was also a basketball coach at the school, posted on Facebook: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much.”
The school put out a brief statement saying the campus is in mourning: “Harbor Day School is devastated by the news. We are mourning the loss of members of our community. Our first priority is the well-being of our students. As news is publicized, we will ensure that our support team is made available to assist and counsel our students. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”
Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa confirmed that baseball coach John Altobelli was also one of the victims.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli,” the college said. ‘He was a coach, a colleague, a mentor and a friend at OCC for 27 years.”
The coach’s brother Tony Altobelli, who is the sports director at OCC, told CNN that Altobelli’s wife Keri Altobelli and daughter Alyssa, a 13-year-old basketball player for Bryant’s sports training Mamba Academy, also died in the crash.
All of the victims on the flight were reportedly from Orange County.
The helicopter company, meanwhile, released the following statement: “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.”
As the news spread, Lakers fans began gathering outside Staples Center, prompting the Los Angeles Police Department to remind the public that “the area around the Staples Center is closed due to the Grammys & fans will not be able to access the arena.”
One fan told KTLA, “I didn’t know what else to do, so I came here.” News of Kobe’s death spread quickly, prompting reactions from personalities from sports, entertainment and politics.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court—and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
“He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes. This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief.”
At 8:24 p.m., City Hall was illuminated in purple and gold light in honor of Bryant, and the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier also lit up with Lakers colors.
“We mourn the tragic and untimely death of a California icon and basketball legend, Kobe Bryant,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “In his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made history with raw talent and unparalleled dedication that raised the bar and paved the way for a newer generation of players.
“Despite winning five NBA championships and two gold Olympic medals, and achieving countless accolades in the athletics world, he also helped improve the lives of youth and families through the Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Bryant Foundation, and was an outspoken advocate for combating homelessness through partnerships with organizations such as My Friend’s Place and Step Up on Second.
“Our deepest condolences go to his wife, family, colleagues, friends and fans. He was taken too soon and he will be missed.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who teamed with Bryant for their first three NBA championships, tweeted: “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant. I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW”
Former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade tweeted: “Nooooooooooo God please No!”
Former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce—who battled Kobe twice in the NBA Finals—tweeted: “This is not real right now.”
“Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling,” basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said. “I loved Kobe—he was like a little brother to me. 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.”
And former President Barack Obama tweeted: “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.
Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—the NBA’s all-time leading scorer—said “Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always
remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
The NBA Players Association tweeted: “We are stunned and devastated by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family.”
Kobe and his wife Vanessa, who wed in 2001, had four daughters, Natalia, 17, Gianna, 13, Bianca, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
Bryant, the son of former NBA star Joe “Jellybean” Bryant—joined the Lakers straight out of his Philadelphia-area high school in 1996. He led the Lakers to five NBA championships and was a perennial All-Star.
The Lakers, who play the Clippers Tuesday, cancelled today’s practice, and L.A. radio stations said they would observe a moment of silence at noon today to honor Bryant. Additionally Garcetti ordered flags in Los Angeles to be lowered to half-staff today.