A helicopter carrying nine passengers, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, crashed over Calabasas, California, on Sunday, killing everyone on board.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has yet to identify the victims, the crash was detected shortly before 10 a.m. on a hillside near Malibu.
When authorities arrived, they discovered a quarter-acre brushfire on the hillside. Malibu deputies scanned the crash site for survivors. But none of the nine people on board, including the pilot, who has not yet been identified, survived, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told reporters.
ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday afternoon that the former L.A. Lakers star and his young daughter Gianna Maria Onore were en route to Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, not far from Los Angeles.
Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, who was chosen as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s national coach of the year in 2019, was also among the victims, along with his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa.
“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,” Orange Coast Athletic Director Jason Kehler said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go out to the Altobelli family during this time of tragedy.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley confirmed that Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at Harbor Day School, also died in the crash.
“I just learned that our amazing Matt Mauser of TiajuanaDogs lost his wife Christina in the crash. She coached the girls team,” Foley tweeted. “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.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva declined to name the victims until they had been identified by the coroner.
“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” he said. “That is just wholly inappropriate so we are not going to be going there. We are going to wait until the coroner does their job.”
Vanessa Bryant, the basketball player’s wife, was not believed to be among the passengers, nor was Rick Fox, another former L.A. Laker initial accounts suggested may have been onboard.
Bryant, who helped the Lakers win five championships, was known for flying in helicopters frequently, often commuting even short distances in his preferred model, a Sikorsky S-76.
Richard Winton, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that he was sitting at his dining room table on Sunday when he “heard the whir of helicopter blades” as Bryant’s copter crashed.
“It was a foggy morning, with visibility at less than 60 feet,” he recalled. “I looked toward a nearby window in my Calabasas home and heard a massive boom, followed by a few seconds of silence. Then a fireball erupted on a hillside off Las Virgenes Road.”
“In the ensuing minutes, a stream of firefighters arrived to tackle the fire,” he added. “I was able to make it closer to the crash site, where I saw debris strewn across the hillside, still smoldering.”
A bystander, Jerry Kocharian, told Winton that he was outside drinking coffee when he saw the helicopter flying “real low.”
“I saw it falling and spluttering,” he said. “But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy.”
Osby, the L.A. fire chief, said firefighters had to hike to the accident scene with their equipment to “extinguish the stubborn fire.”
“The fire also included magnesium, which is very hard for our firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water,” he explained.
The night before the crash, Bryant had been in Philadelphia to watch LeBron James unseat him for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Bryant and James commemorated the night in an Instagram post of the pair. “On to #2 @kingjames!” Bryant wrote. “Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next. 💪🏾”
Shaquille O’Neal mourned the death of his former Lakers teammate on Twitter, writing, “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice 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,” he added.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s known Bryant since he was 11 years old, also paid tribute to the basketball superstar in a video posted on Twitter.
“I had the privilege of being there when he scored his 81-point game. It was something I will always remember,” he said. “Kobe, my thoughts are with you, absolutely. Rest in peace, young man. This loss, it’s just hard to comprehend. Go with god.”
Several NBA games began playing following news of Bryant’s death, with players paying tribute to him. The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs began their game with both teams running out the 24-second shot clock—taking violations in the process—in honor of Bryant’s number.
Word of Bryant’s death was first reported by TMZ.