Kobe Bryant’s sudden death in helicopter crash shocks fans, athletes around the world

CALABASAS, Calif. (AP) - Coroner’s officials are working to recover victims’ remains from the hillside outside Los Angeles where a helicopter carrying former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others crashed in a wreck that aviation experts said may have been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented in the fog.

Kobe Bryant won five NBA championships during his 20-year career, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was named the league MVP in 2008 and was an 18-time All-Star. (Source: CNN)

The foggy conditions were considered dangerous enough that local police agencies grounded their choppers.

A federal investigator says the pilot told air traffic controllers in his last message that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer before the aircraft plunged more than 1,000 feet into a hillside. The helicopter crashed Sunday morning after requesting special permission to fly through heavy fog.

Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board says investigators went to the scene Monday to collect evidence.

About 20 investigators were on the scene of the crash that scattered debris over an area the size of a football field and killed everyone aboard. Coroner’s officials are working to recover the victims’ remains. The coroner’s office says three bodies were recovered Sunday afternoon.

The county medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said investigators will try to make identifications of the victims as quickly as possible.

While investigators and coroner’s personnel were working on the scene, Time Magazine released a new cover commemorating Bryant. It shows the basketball legend from the back, holding a ball and taking a final bow.

The victims

Gianna Bryant, Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter was also killed in the crash. Her dad called her Mambacita. He was Mamba, and she was going to be basketball’s female version of him. She was going to play at Connecticut and head to the WNBA. Her promising life came to a shocking, sudden and sad end Sunday. Everyone who saw her play said she was a promising young star, whose play and tenacity looked a lot like that of her famous father.

Longtime Orange Coast College baseball coach 56-year-old John Altobelli was also killed in the helicopter crash, according to his brother. He died along with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa. Altobelli’s daughter was on the same basketball team as Gianna Bryant.

Altobelli spent 27 seasons as coach at the community college in Costa Mesa, California. He also coached more than a dozen future major leaguers in the Cape Cod Baseball League for elite college prospects, including All-Stars Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley also tweeted that Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school, died in the crash. Mauser’s husband, Matt Mauser, wrote in a Facebook post: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”

Mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, were also killed. Zobayan was an instrument-certified pilot and instructor with 13 years of commercial flying experience, according to CNN.

Remembering, honoring “Black Mamba”

The accident unleashed an outpouring of grief from admirers around the country who mourned Bryant’s sudden loss. The basketball superstar won five NBA titles during a 20-year playing career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired in 2016 as the league’s No. 3 all-time scorer and remained there until Lakers forward LeBron James passed him on Saturday.

James posted a heartfelt response to Bryant and Gianna’s deaths Monday night on Instagram.

“I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!!” James wrote. “I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation... Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!”

Some fans hope to honor the basketball superstar through a Change.org petition. They’re asking the NBA to modify their logo from a silhouette of Jerry West to one of Bryant. The petition has been signed over 500,000 times.

The NBA postponed the game scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28 between the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers. The game will be rescheduled at a later date.

At the Australian Open Monday, Nick Kyrgios wore a Lakers No. 8 jersey to honor Kobe Bryant ahead of a fourth-round match against Rafael Nadal.

The 15-year-old Coco Gauff had Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24, along with the inscription “Mamba Mentality,” on her shoes in a doubles match at Melbourne Park.

Bryant will be mourned for an entire week in Italy, where he lived between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father played for several teams in the country. The Italian basketball federation says it has ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.”

The federation says “it’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart. Kobe was and will always be linked to our country.”

Bryant returned to Pennsylvania for high school but spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country.

Bryant was also a hugely popular figure in Asia, no more so than in China where basketball rivals soccer as the most popular sport. However, his death comes at an awkward time between the country and the league.

China’s national broadcaster pulled all NBA games off the air in October after the Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.

Still, Chinese fans offered their condolences and tributes online, while the presidents of Taiwan and the Philippines also offered their praise for his contributions and inspiration.

In Japan, the head of the association marketing Kobe beef, the succulent meat that reportedly inspired Kobe’s name, said they always “felt a closeness with him.”

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. CNN and Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report. All rights reserved.