Remembering the Nine Lives Lost in the Devastating Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash

Even with all of 2020's tragedies, the events of Jan. 26 still devastate. On the anniversary of that horrific crash, we remember Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna and the other seven souls lost.

By Sarah Grossbart Jan 26, 2022 3:03 PMTags
Watch: Remembering Kobe Bryant's Journey: E! News Rewind

Not even four weeks into January, we were hit with the news we all assumed would be among the worst we'd hear in 2020. And even after more than a year of loss and grief, isolation and anxiety, the events of Jan. 26, 2020, still feel overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

The devastation came in waves on that Sunday morning 24 months ago. What felt unbelievable at first—that a giant like Kobe Bryant could be taken from us at the age of 41—only became more unimaginable as the hours wore on. 

By nighttime, as celebrities poured into Los Angeles' Staples Center, the site of that evening's Grammys and the spot where the NBA legend had spent his prolific 20-season career, the pieces were coming together: Just before 10 a.m., a helicopter making the 85-mile trip from Orange County's John Wayne Airport to the Mamba Sports Academy near Thousand Oaks, Calif., for a youth basketball tournament had crashed into the hills of Calabasas. All nine passengers aboard died instantly. 

Kobe Bryant's Family Album

That list included Bryant, the larger-than-life athlete, author, Oscar winner and devoted "girl dad" and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, the second of his and Vanessa Bryant's four girls and the one most likely to follow his path onto the hardwood. The toll also included two of her teammates and five other adults, names not as instantly recognizable as the five-time NBA champion, but no less worthy of the tributes and memorials that followed. 

Names like Christina Mauser, a skilled, defensive-minded assistant couch on Kobe and Gianna's team who "could figure out anything," as her husband Matt Mauser put it during an appearance on Today the next morning. 

He and their three kids are still trying to figure out how to move forward. "We fight for every bit of happiness," the singer-songwriter told the Orange County Register in an interview. It's an ongoing challenge for them and everyone else who had a loved one aboard that fateful flight. On the anniversary of that tragic day we remember all the souls who were lost. 

Kobe Bryant

The type of person for whom the term Greatest of All Time was invented, the 18-time NBA All Star's resume is prolific: Five NBA titles, two Olympic gold medals, a posthumous induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and an Oscar for his animated short Dear Basketball, suggesting that his future as a content producer would be just as fruitful as his athletic past. "I love telling stories," he explained to USA Today in what would turn out to be his final interview. "I love inspiring kids or providing them with tools that are going to help them."

But nothing made him beam with delight quite as much as the family he created with Vanessa Bryant, his love of more than two decades. "Being a father is the thing I am most proud of in this world; it's my greatest accomplishment," he told Maria Shriver in November 2019 of daughters Natalia, 19, Gigi, Bianka, 5, and Capri, 2. "I've learned so much, but perhaps the most profound thing has been the fierce, unconditional love you have for your children when you become a parent. I'm blessed to have had that experience four times now and there's nothing more powerful in this world."

Gianna Bryant

Kobe never needed to respond when someone dared suggest he have a son to carry on his basketball legacy. "The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans come up to me, and she'll be standing next to me," he shared of daughter Gigi on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018. "They'll be like 'Man, you gotta have a boy, you and V gotta have a boy, have somebody carry on your tradition, the legacy and she's like, 'Oh, I got this! You don't need a boy for that. I got this.' I'm like, that's right. Yes you do."

Blessed with Dad's moves and confident swagger, it was her dreams of playing at the University of Connecticut and the WNBA that Kobe credited with reigniting his love of the game. "Before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it, but now that she's into basketball, we watch every night," he revealed during a January 2020 appearance on the All the Smoke podcast. "When I took her to the Laker game, that's the first Laker game I've been to I think since my jersey retirement. We had so much fun because it was the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes."

John, Keri & Alyssa Altobelli

Set to start his 28th season as head coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team, John had racked up more than 700 wins, four state titles and honors as one of the American Baseball Coaches Association's 2019 ABCA/Diamond National Coaches of the Year. "Alto was one of the best men I've ever met," associate head coach Nate Johnson said at an impromptu memorial. "If your son played for him, he treated him like a son. If you coached for him, he treated you like a brother. If you worked for him, you were part of his family." 

That brood included wife Keri and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who along with sister Lexi was a teammate of Gigi's who one friend called "the "funniest, most caring girl I ever met." Lexi ultimately finished up her senior year of high school while living with older brother J.J., a Boston Red Sox scout and former University of Oregon shortstop. But the Altobelli also included the thousands who gathered at Anaheim's Angel Stadium for the trio's February memorial. "It really shows the impact that my dad, K and Alyssa had on everyone here," J.J. said of the support he and his sister had received. "There's no way for me to put what they meant to me in words...But for tonight, let's all live by my dad's favorite motto: 'You drinkin', or thinking?'"

Sarah & Payton Chester

Mother to 13-year-old Payton, a teammate of Gigi's, along with teen sons Hayden and Riley, Sarah was "the one that everybody counted on," her brother Andy George, told The Orange County Register, adding that Payton was "the gentlest person you would ever meet."

Sarah and husband Chris were a dedicated, amazing family with "the best kiddos," Payton's former elementary school principal Todd Schmidt wrote on Facebook. "This family made such a huge impact...they were genuine, kind-hearted, and the staff, to other families…and yes, especially to me," he shared. "While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important…their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken."

Christina Mauser

"She was extraordinary,'' Matt Mauser said of his bride, mom to kids Penny, Tom, and Ivy, and an assistant coach on Kobe's Mamba Academy team. "She was incredibly witty, funny, funny like nobody you've ever met."

And skilled enough on the court to catch the eye of a certain 18-time NBA All Star. With Matt and Christina both serving as coaches at the private Orange County, Calif. school that Kobe's daughters attended, "He saw what an amazing mind [Christina] had for basketball and he brought her on," Matt explained during his Jan. 27 Today appearance. "He asked her to teach the kids defense."

Nicknamed MOD, as in Mother of Defense, "She was warm, she was incredibly bright, she was technologically incredibly savvy," Matt continued. "She could figure out anything." Now, he and his kids are trying to work out how to move forward while honoring her legacy. "I just try to live the life that Christina would want us to live," he told The Orange County Register. "Life is for living, and life is beautiful despite all the stuff that we've been through and everybody has been through. You're supposed to find joy in life."

Ara Zobayan

A licensed commercial pilot known for helping celebrities live the high life, Ara had charted Kylie Jenner ("He was such a nice man," she wrote on Instagram shortly after the crash) and Lorenzo Lamas, one of the certified flight and ground instructor's regular students. "We started flying together back in early 2000. There is a long history of friendship between the two of us," Lorenzo told Extra of the Huntington Beach resident. "He's a guy that I would go to if I had questions regarding a flight or charter."

Reportedly the only person Kobe trusted in the cockpit, "He was as skilled and as talented as a pilot as you could get," former student Adam Alexander told People. "With him, it was always safety first and above and beyond that, he was doing what he loved."

This story was originally published on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021 at 6 a.m. PT.

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