Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed Sunday, Jan. 26, when a helicopter taking them to his youth basketball academy crashed in the foggy hills of Calabasas.
There were no survivors.
Those on board the 12-seat helicopter included Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, according to news reports. Another victim was Christina Mauser, who was a coach at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa mayor Katrina Foley tweeted.
A mother and daughter from Orange County also died in the crash, family and friends confirmed on social media. They were Sarah and Payton Chester. A friend said Payton attended St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano.
KTLA reported the pilot was Ara Zobayan and that he was being mourned on social media.
The identities of all victims would not be announced until families are notified, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B, took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:08 a.m., records show.
The crash, in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street, was called in at 9:47 a.m., according to a watch commander at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lost Hills/Malibu station.
The downed chopper triggered a small fire that was quickly put out.
Two men working at the Church in the Canyon, a small Presbyterian congregation on Las Virgenes Road immediately to the west of the crash site, were the first to see the Sikorsky helicopter plunge into the side of the hill.
Jerry Kosharian, 62, a longtime facilities manager for the church, was drinking his coffee and talking on his phone in the parking lot when he heard a helicopter buzzing by.
Something was wrong. The helicopter sounded too low, he thought.
“It sounded like the engine was struggling,” Kosharian said.
Kosharian never saw the helicopter. The clouds Sunday morning were too thick and low. But as he turned to the sound coming from the side of the hill, he saw fireballs raining down around the crash site.
Scott Daehlin, 61, was setting up sound for the service when he heard a helicopter above him hovering. After about 20 seconds there was a loud crack and knew it crashed.
“He was in the soup,” Daehlin said, referring to the low cloud cover Sunday morning.
Daehlin’s dad was a pilot. Daehlin said he thinks the helicopter lost visibility entirely and was looking for a landmark to tell him where he was.
He heard the explosion, he said, then silence.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department did not allow their helicopters to fly because of visibility issue, Villanueva said.
A review of radio communications between the Burbank airport tower and the helicopter shows the pilot requested permission to fly with monitoring from air traffic control, called “flight following.” The tower can be heard telling the pilot they were too low before the conversation ended.
An 18-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board was en route to investigate the crash, including the history of the pilot and the maintenance record of the aircraft, said NTSB member Jennifer Homendy.
The Lakers confirmed that Bryant, 41, was one of the victims.
“We can confirm that Kobe Bryant passed away today from the causes of a helicopter accident. The entire Los Angeles Lakers family wishes to support their family and friends. RIP KOBE,” the team tweeted at 12:24 p.m.
The National Basketball Association sent a confirmation of Bryant’s and his daughter Gianna’s deaths to all teams and league employees Sunday afternoon, according to two people familiar with the document, the New York Times reported.
Mauser was an assistant coach to Bryant in youth basketball, said Dave White, who coached her at Edison High School. Her husband Matt Mauser of the Tijuana Dogs band 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.”