World / NBA legend Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash aged 41

Mail Online : Jan 27, 2020, 09:38 AM

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant flew through thick fog, despite Los Angeles police grounding their own fleet, before crashing into a hillside in Calabasas, California, killing all nine on board on Sunday morning. 

The 41-year-old former Lakers basketball star's private Sikorsky S-76 immediately caught fire at around 10am. Bryant died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.

Law enforcement told TMZ even LAPD air support had been grounded due to the bad weather. Flight data shows the aircraft appeared to get into trouble above the LA Zoo where it circled at a very low altitude and air traffic control audio suggests conditions were worsening.  

Initial reports claimed five people had been killed, but the death toll was raised to nine - including the pilot - at a press conference Sunday night. Among those killed was John Altobelli, a baseball coach at Orange County College, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa. Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser was also killed in crash.  

The cause of the crash is under investigation but the control tower at Burbank Airport was contacted by the pilot shortly before 10am local time. At around 9:40 AM the helicoter turned south, towards a mountainous area, flight tracker data shows. Five minutes later it hit the hillside at 1700 feet, near the home of Kourtney Kardashian.

On eyewitness said they 'didn’t hear any anomalies with the engine'. Scott Daehlin, who was one the first onlookers to contact officials about the crash, told People: 'It seemed to be running fine.' He said he believes 'visibility' was at fault.  

Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star was said to have been headed to Mamba Academy - which he founded - in Thousand Oaks for basketball practice. 

Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department responded to the scene near Las Virgenes Rd and Willow Glen St in Calabasas after a group of mountain bikers spotted the smoke. 

A flight plan indicated the helicopter, reportedly registered to Island Express Holding Corp., took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9.06am PST and the last signal was received from the aircraft at 9.45am. It was expected to land at San Gabriel Valley Airport in El Monte.   

Those living nearby the crash scene said they heard what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter. Colin Storm said: 'It was very foggy so we couldn't see anything. But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.'

Calabasas resident Matt Graham told People: 'I was sitting on my couch when I heard it go over our roof. I thought to myself, ‘Wow they’re flying really low today.’ It must’ve been about 100 feet above our roof by the way the house was shaking. I couldn’t imagine why a helicopter was flying so low.' 

Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.  

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and their three other daughters - Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born last summer. 

A heartbreaking video of the deceased father-daughter duo attending a basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets on December 21 resurfaced soon after the crash.  

Bryant appears to be teaching Gianna - a budding basketball star herself - a thing or two about the game while sitting courtside at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Gianna frequently shared photos of herself on the court on social media. 

The father and daughter were said to be heading to the Mamba Cup Tournament Series, held for teams from the third to eighth grades. Bryant coached Gianna’s team. All the games were canceled after the news of their deaths became public. 

In final images of the pair taken Saturday Kobe watches Gianna play, appearing to coach her at points. 

News of the NBA legend's death sent shockwaves in the sports world and beyond - marking an abrupt ending to one of most indelible public lives in modern American history.  

Barack Obama called Bryant 'a legend on the court just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act'. 

He said: '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.' 

President Donald Trump reacted to the reports of Bryant's death soon after they began to surface, tweeting: 'That is terrible news!' 

He later added: 'Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. 

'The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating. Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!  

Orange Coast College announced the death of their head baseball coach John Altobelli in a statement Sunday. 

'John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,' says Coast Athletic Director Jason Kehler. '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.'  

His brother Tony Altobelli told CBS: 'I got a text message from my older brother asking if I had heard about Kobe's chopper incident. He didn't even know that they had been on that chopper. I didn't hear anything about it. I started checking internets and everything was completely overloaded.' 

The mayor of Costa Mesa, Katrina Foley, confirmed the death of Christina Mauser. She tweeted: 'I just learned that our amazing Matt Mauser of TiajuanaDogs lost his wife Christina in the crash. She coached the girls team. 

'This devastating tragedy gets worse by the hour. So much pain for so many local families. Our hearts are broken & grieving for the families impacted.' 

Christina's husband Matt wrote 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.'