Kobe Bryant's Fatal Helicopter Crash: Everything We Know

On Sunday, Jan. 26 Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna were among nine individuals who lost their life in a fatal helicopter crash

By Cydney Contreras Feb 11, 2020 9:11 PMTags
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The world is still reeling after the loss of basketball great Kobe Bryant.

Days barely passed since the world learned Kobe and daughter Gianna "Gigi" Maria-Onore Bryant and seven others died in a fatal helicopter crash. In the moments since, new information about the victims and the crash have emerged, even as fans, friends and family struggle to process these deaths. 

According to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, they're currently in the process of investigating the crash and it's cause, but assured they will do so diligently and promptly. 

To find out everything we know so far, read below. 

Who Was on the Helicopter?: In a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, it was confirmed Kobe and his daughter were joined by seven other people at the time of the accident.

Among the victims are John Altobelli, a baseball coach for Orange Coast College, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa. The Altobelli family leaves behind their son J.J. and daughter Alexis. In a statement to The Athletic, John's brother Tony Altobelli shared, "He is going to be missed, not just at this campus but statewide at this level, and all the way through collegiate baseball."

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In addition, Sarah Chester and daughter Payton died in the crash. Payton was one of Gianna's teammates and was described as having the "sweetest soul, the kindest," by her uncle, Andy George. "It's just so hard to believe they're gone," he told the OC Register.

Elsa/Getty Images

Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser also passed on Sunday. As the assistant basketball coach, Mauser frequently worked with Bryant and the Mamba Academy. Her husband, Matt Mauser shared 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."

"She was extraordinary... She was incredibly witty, funny, funny like nobody you've ever met," Matt added in an interview with Today's Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie.

People are also paying their respects to the family of Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter. As a pilot he had over 20 years experience flying under his belt.

Where Were They Flying?: On Sunday morning Kobe attended church, moments before their helicopter took off from Orange County's John Wayne Airport around 9 a.m. and headed north towards Kobe's Mamba Academy in the Thousand Oaks area, where Gianna and her teammates were scheduled to play in the Mamba Cup. According to the L.A. Times, the Mamba Cup is a tournament that highlights boys' and girls' teams from fourth through eighth grade. That afternoon, Gianna, Payton and Alyssa were schedule to face off against the Fresno Lady Heat.

Orange Coast College via Twitter

As the helicopter traveled north, it passed over Boyle Heights, before briefly circling over Glendale due to air traffic control. After briefly circling Glendale, the aircraft continued along the I-5 north. Shortly after, the helicopter crashed into a hillside.

What Caused the Crash?: According to an aviation source, the sudden crash of the Sikorsky-76 is likely due to the dense fog in the area. "Typically crashes due to low visibility are a quick sudden crash because they didn't see the ground and by the time they notice it's too late to make movement and it just hits," the source explained.

It's worth noting Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said the department's Air Support Division grounded its helicopters Sunday morning because "the weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying."

Nonetheless, the Washington Post reported that the pilot was "approved for what's known as special visual flight rules." Essentially, the pilot was approved to fly lower than what is typically allowed in an attempt to avoid the dense fog and see the ground below. 

Courtesy of Today Show

The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a team to the site and is working in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the exact cause of the crash. They are also working with the assistance of the FBI, a common practice in circumstances like these. 

In a press conference on late Monday afternoon, Jan. 27, NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy shared, "There is an impact area on one of the hills and a piece of the tail is over the hill. The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. The main router is about 100 yards beyond that. The debris field is 500-600 feet."

She also revealed there was no black box for the helicopter as it's not required for the aircraft. 

In the course of the investigation, the investigators hope to determine whether there was any chance of survival, but Homendy described the accident as "pretty devastating."

Authorities requested people maintain their distance from the crash site as they work to investigate and reveal they have officers on horseback monitoring the scene, since some people have tried to access the site by foot. At the time of print there have been no arrests made, but they established a perimeter so the coroner's office and NTSB can do "their job."

"They started recovering human remains last night and will continue for the next several days," authorities stated. 

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In another press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 28, NTSB investigators revealed they are still very much in the process of determining the cause of the crash. With the investigation still in the early days, the officials couldn't reveal much, but said their report will likely include recommendation for new policies  for the Federal Aviation Administration. Among the recommended policies, which they've previously suggested in relation to similar accidents, is for the FAA to make it mandatory for all 6-passenger air crafts to be equipped with a terrain awareness system, a tool that wasn't included in the helicopter and could've saved the lives of the nine victims on board.

By Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed the identities of all nine victims through fingerprint analysis. After body examinations, their causes of death were certified as blunt trauma. The manner of death was certified as accident.

While the NTSB won't complete their investigation for at least another year, they released a preliminary report that indicates engines were fully operational at the time of impact. 

Timothy Kuratek /CBS

Who's Spoken Out About the Crash?: It seems like everyone from Hollywood and the sports community has expressed their condolences for the star and the other victims of the crash. Notably, Magic JohnsonMichael JordanShaquille O'NealDerek Jeter and Dwyane Wade have shared their thoughts and prayers in the wake of his passing. 

"Today is one of the saddest days in my lifetime. It seems like a bad dream that you just want to wake up from. It's a nightmare," Wade shared to his Instagram. He added that he idolized the basketball great for much of his career and will carry on his legacy in any way possible. 

As previously noted, friends and family of the Altobelli, Mauser, Chester and Zobayan families have expressed their gratitude and profound sadness over Sunday's event

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, wife Vanessa Bryant broke her silence on Kobe and their daughter's deaths in a touching Instagram post. She also announced the creation of the MambaOnThree Fund, which will support the other families affected by the chopper crash. The Orange Coast College Foundationalso established an Altobelli Family Memorial. Those wishing to donate can do so at the OCC Foundation website. 


What Tributes Have Been Made in Kobe and the Others' Honor?: In the hours and moments after Bryant's death, fans across the world paid their respects in the only way they knew how. At the 2020 Grammys, there was a moment of silence. Meanwhile, outside, people descended upon the Staples Center to create a makeshift altar for the star, while others across the country witnessed national landmarks being lit in purple and gold. From New York's Madison Square Garden to Los Angeles' airport and city hall, there were tributes to the 41-year-old everywhere. 

While Kobe's life will always be remembered and his legacy carried on, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is inducting the late athlete into the hall of fame alongside the rest of the Class of 2020. Additionally, EPSN re-aired Bryant's final game on Monday, Jan. 27.

On Thursday, Jan. 30, the NBA announced its annual All-Star Game will include a new fourth quarter format to honor Bryant. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off and a Final Target Score will be set. The Final Target Score will be determined by taking the leading team's total cumulative score through three quarters and adding 24 points—Bryant's jersey number for the final 10 seasons of his career. The teams will then play an untimed fourth quarter and the first team to reach the Final Target Score will win the NBA All-Star Game.

Have They Announced a Memorial or Funeral Services?: Kobe and Gianna have since been laid to rest in a private funeral service attended by their close friends and family. That being said, there will be a public memorial hosted at the Staples Center in honor of Kobe and daughter Gianna on Feb. 24. 

In regards to the other victims, various memorials have been held in their memory. On Feb. 10, members of the Orange County community and beyond gathered at the Angel Stadium in Anaheim to remember John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli. Speakers at the event included their son J.J. Altobelli, who spoke of the "amazing" support the family is receiving. It was also requested that any donations made to the family be directed to this GoFundMe campaign.

—Additionally reporting by Spencer Lubitz

(This story was originally published on Monday, Jan. 27 at 2:41 p.m. PST.)