La Prensa Staff (Updated January 30)
Basketball legend Kobe Bryant died Sunday when the helicopter he and eight others were riding in crashed in heavy fog near Calabasas in western Los Angeles.
Bryant, 41, was traveling with his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, and seven others to a girls’ basketball game that was going to be played at noon on Sunday as part of a tournament he organized at Mamba Sports Academy. Gianna was a player on the team Bryant was expected to coach that day.
Traveling with the Bryants were John and Keri Altobelli, their daughter Alyssa that played with Gianna; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, who also played on Gianna’s team; Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach, and the pilot of the helicopter, Ara Zobayan.
The helicopter, a Sikorsky S76B executive aircraft, departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County earlier that morning. The weather was foggy and required the pilot to request special permission to continue its path toward Thousand Oaks. The accident happened after the pilot first climbed to avoid the fog then suddenly descended until it crashed. The crash site is near Calabasas, a community with many famous residents.
Bryant had used helicopters, and especially that same one, for many trips from his home near Newport Beach, including having flown to most of his home games in his final few years with the Lakers before retiring in 2016. He said the short 15-minute flight allowed him to rest before games instead of spending two hours in a car in traffic.
Eye witnesses said they heard the helicopter flying low to the ground, and one said saw the aircraft falling to the ground at a high rate of speed. Initial reviews of available flight tracking information indicate the helicopter was traveling at 184 miles per hour when it impacted the ground.
All nine people on board were dead when emergency personnel finally reached the crash site on a remote hillside. The LA Coroner’s positively identified all nine bodies.
Kobe Bryant was drafted in 1996 straight from high school, and played his entire 20 year career with the Lakers. Bryant was one of the NBA’s most decorated players, having won five NBA championships, named an All-Star 18 times, selected for 15 All-NBA Teams, a 12-time member of All-Defensive Teams, was the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, and won two Gold Medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He was third among the NBA’s All-time leading regular season scorers until the night before his death, when he was passed now-LA Lakers forward LeBron James.