UPDATE: Basketball Legend Kobe Bryant dies at 41.

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https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/28572984/helicopter-carrying-kobe-bryant-made-climbing-turn-rapid-dive

NBA legend Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, a source confirmed to ESPN. Bryant was 41.

Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball game with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who was 13, when the helicopter crashed, sources said. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a news conference that there were no survivors, and according to the flight manifest, there were nine people on board the helicopter.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said Sunday afternoon that the Federal Aviation Administration was on the scene and will work with the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the crash. He said authorities will not release the names of victims until they are identified and next of kin are notified.

Villanueva and Los Angeles County chief medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said later Sunday night that, given the terrain and condition of the crash site, they expect the recovery effort to take anywhere from a couple to several days. After recovery is complete, the identification process can begin.

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The cause of the crash is unknown. The helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PT. It was going to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for Gianna’s game, sources told ESPN. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 9:47 a.m.

Orange Coast College baseball coaching legend John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa were among the victims, the Altobelli family confirmed. Altobelli won four California community college titles in his 27 years at the school.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley tweeted that the dead also included Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school. Mauser’s husband, Matt Mauser, founded the Tijuana Dogs, a popular Orange County band. In a Facebook post, he said: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”

Also killed in the crash were Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, a middle school student, sources confirmed to ESPN. Riley Chester, Payton’s brother, posted a tribute to his family on Instagram on Sunday, writing, “Rest in Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, was also killed, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Paula Lavigne.

The crash came one day after Bryant was passed by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James for third on the NBA career scoring list. As late as 10:39 p.m. ET Saturday, Bryant was active on social media, congratulating James on Twitter during the Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

A source told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that the Lakers found out about Bryant’s death while on the team plane flying home from Philadelphia.

“Everyone is in shock,” a team source said.

A visibly shaken James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked alone from the plane after it landed Sunday in Southern California.

James inscribed his sneakers with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” in gold marker before Saturday’s game, showing respect for Bryant, an 18-time All-Star with the Lakers who is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in Calabasas, California. Getty Images

All week, in the lead-up to the milestone, James was quick to laud Bryant.

“It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,” James said. “Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration. It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling, and it’s dope.

“Kobe’s a legend. That’s for damn sure.”

A 6-foot-6 swingman with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA out of high school. In 1996, at age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history.

He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States. Now fourth on the NBA career scoring list with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and the regular-season MVP in 2008. He wore Nos. 8 and 24, both of which were retired by the Lakers.

Shaquille O’Neal, who won three titles with Bryant in Los Angeles, posted on Instagram: “There are no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my neice Gigi & my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !!”View this post on Instagram

There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on Jan 26, 2020 at 1:33pm PST

This week marked the 14th anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, still the second-most points scored in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100.

“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization and the entire sports world.”

The NBA played its games Sunday — something the fiercely competitive Bryant likely would have appreciated. A moment of silence was held at the first game of the day, the Rockets vs. the Nuggets in Denver. The Raptors and Suns each allowed 24 seconds to run off the clock on the first two possessions without playing. The Magic took a 24-second violation, and the Clippers followed with an eight-second backcourt violation. The Knicks and Nets took shot-clock violations at Madison Square Garden, which was lit in purple and gold. The Pelicans and Celtics also took violations, and Boston’s Jaylen Brown pretended to take a shot as the shot clock hit eight.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team will retire the No. 24 jersey in tribute to Bryant.

Bryant passed his childhood idol, Michael Jordan, on the career scoring list in 2014. Jordan embraced Bryant, fueling his passion for the game. The two had a memorable matchup in Bryant’s first All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and later, when Jordan played for the Washington Wizards, Bryant scored 42 points in a half (en route to 55 in the game) against him.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him,” Bryant said of Jordan in 2014, “from the other legends and him in particular.”

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” Jordan said in a statement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. 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. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette [Prieto, Jordan’s wife] joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”

Phil Jackson, Bryant’s former coach with the Lakers, told Bleacher Report in a statement that “the crash was a tragedy for multiple families. My heart goes out to Vanessa and the families that lost loved ones. Kobe was a chosen one — special in many ways to many people. Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil.”

A Philadelphia native, Bryant was selected No. 13 overall in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers. He was credited with changing how NBA front offices viewed wing talent entering the draft out of high school.

“I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant. One of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers,” James said Saturday night. “The man got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”

Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have multiple jerseys retired by a franchise.

On Nov. 29, 2015, Bryant announced that he intended to retire at the end of the season, which launched a farewell tour for the ages. He played in 66 games that season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points, leading the Lakers past the Utah Jazz 101-96.

Another Lakers legend, Magic Johnson, said he was “heartbroken” over Bryant’s death.

Earvin Magic Johnson@MagicJohnson

As I try to write this post, my mind is racing. I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken.

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Bryant married Vanessa Laine Bryant in 2001, and they had four daughters together. Their oldest, Natalia, is 17, and their youngest, Capri, is 7 months old. They also have a 3-year-old, Bianka. Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, is a former NBA player.

While Kobe Bryant was an unqualified star on the court, he had controversy off it. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The criminal case was dropped the next year, but Bryant still issued an apology. He said he considered the encounter to be consensual but recognized that the woman “did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”

After his playing days ended, Bryant transitioned into a post-basketball life that was far from retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.” He also created a children’s book series, inspired by his love for “Harry Potter,” and it became a New York Times bestseller.

People were glued to their phones and TVs around the world Sunday as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage.

Thousands of people remembered Bryant outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mourners in No. 24 jerseys mixed with those arriving at the downtown arena in fancy dress for Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. People carried flowers and chanted “Kobe!” and “MVP!” under giant video screens showing Bryant’s smiling face.

“This is where we needed to be,” said Naveen Cheerath, 31, who was among those who gathered downtown Sunday.

New York Mets star Jeff McNeil played for Altobelli, who managed the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League, in 2012.

“He’s one of the main reasons I’m still playing professional baseball,” McNeil told ESPN’s Jeff Passan of Altobelli.

McNeil said he struggled in college at Long Beach State, but one of his coaches called Altobelli, a California junior college legend, and asked him to bring McNeil to the Cape.

“He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer,” McNeil said. “Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted.”

On Sunday morning, Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”

“It was very foggy, so we couldn’t see anything,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”

The fog then cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

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Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.

Osby said firefighters found a quarter-mile brush fire when they hiked into the scene. Paramedics were lowered from a helicopter.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

The NTSB sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days of a crash that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of a crash can take a year or more.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant made climbing turn before rapid dive

Shelley Smith shares how the Los Angeles community is mourning the death of NBA star Kobe Bryant. (1:49)

11:51 PM ET

  • Paula LavigneESPN Staff Writer

The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers that crashed into a hillside in Southern California on Sunday was in a climbing left turn about 2,400 feet high before it dove to the ground, a person familiar with preliminary investigative information about the fatal crash told ESPN.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ESPN that the pilot had, only moments before, contacted air traffic controllers to say that he had begun a climb to “go above the layer” of clouds present.

A source confirmed the identity of the pilot as Ara Zobayan, 50, who was among those killed in the crash.

The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, after departing John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PT. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 9:47 a.m.

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Audio reviewed by ESPN indicates that, a few minutes before the crash, an air traffic controller told Zobayan that he was “still too low level for flight following,” meaning the aircraft was below the level at which it could be picked up by radar due to the area’s hilly terrain. That audio came from recordings posted on LiveATC.net, which has partial audio of the communication between the pilot and air traffic controllers.

Additional recordings between Zobayan and air traffic controllers posted on the site indicate that the pilot was getting guidance from controllers as he navigated what was reported to be dense morning fog.

Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest. After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, the controllers cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S. Route 101, the Ventura Freeway.

Shortly after 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned again, toward the southeast, and climbed to more than 2,000 feet above sea level. It then descended and crashed into a hillside at about 1,400 feet, according to data from Flightradar24.

When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 160 knots (184 mph) and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute (45 mph), the Flightradar24 data showed.

Authorities said nine people were aboard the helicopter and presumed dead. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also was killed, a source told ESPN.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days of a crash that gives a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of an aviation crash can take a year or more.

Among other things, investigators will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.

Zobayan was certified to fly commercial helicopters and had no record of accidents, incidents or enforcement actions with the FAA.

A Federal Aviation Administration aircraft-registration database showed that the helicopter was a 1991 Sikorsky S-76B model owned by a company named Island Express Holding Corp. It was previously owned by the state of Illinois, according to the database.

“The S-76 is a pretty expensive, sophisticated helicopter. … It’s certainly a quality helicopter,” said Justin Green, an aviation attorney in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps.

On Sunday morning, Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.

“It was very foggy, so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”

Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

The Woj Pod

Ramona Shelburne joins Adrian Wojnarowski as both share reactions, memories and context on Kobe Bryant’s death.
Listen now!

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.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about a quarter-acre of dry brush, Osby said.

Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said the department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters Sunday morning due to foggy conditions and didn’t fly until later in the afternoon.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Rubenstein said, adding that the fog “was enough that we were not flying.”

LAPD’s flight minimums are 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, he said. The department typically flies two helicopters when conditions allow, one in the San Fernando Valley and one in the L.A. basin, he said.

The LAPD Air Support Division is the largest municipal airborne law enforcement organization in the United States, according to the department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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