The FAA has confirmed that former NBA basketball star Kobe was among nine people who died in the crash of a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter on Sunday morning. The crash occurred, authorities say, just before 10 am on Sunday in the San Fernando Valley city of Calabasas. Based on footage from local news networks, the helicopter crashed in an unpopulated area. Authorities say that all aboard the craft were killed, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The passengers were reportedly on their way to a youth basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when the crash occurred. Bryant’s daughter and two of the other passengers were traveling to participate in the game.
Also on board was Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna Bryant on the youth basketball team. Also lost in the crash, according to a story on CNN.com, was Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach from Orange County. Also onboard and killed in the crash were Sarah Chester and her middle-school aged daughter Payton, along with veteran commercial helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan.
The helicopter impacted in an area of rising terrain. Weather conditions were poor, with widespread fog in the area. In fact, Los Angeles Police helicopters were grounded at the time due to the low weather conditions, and the Bryant helicopter was operating under a special VFR clearance. Such a clearance is given aircraft that are not operating under instrument flight rules and typically require the pilot to follow ground references. In the case of the accident helicopter, those ground references were freeways.
Reports of mechanical issues plaguing the flight are unfounded. Air traffic control logs show the helicopter held for 15 minutes because of conflicting IFR traffic at Burbank and then transited that airspace and then Van Nuys’ traffic area before proceeding westbound. The pilot requested flight following, but SoCal approach was unable to provide the service, as the helicopter was too low for radar coverage in the area it was flying, according to air traffic control tapes.
The flight then proceeded for reasons unknown in a southerly direction toward terrain that was far higher than the helicopter’s altitude, and when controllers attempted to contact the pilot, no response was heard, and the aircraft disappeared from radar.
Although the causes for the crash are still unknown and the NTSB is investigating, radar reports show the helicopter just before it collided with terrain descending at an extremely high rate, around 4,000 feet per minute, according to reports, and at 160 knots at the time of the crash. The debris field, according to video of the crash site, was extensive, and the crash started a brush fire in the hills, which Los Angeles firefighters were able to extinguish.
According to reports, the helicopter was Bryant’s personal transportation. A Sikorsky S-76, a popular 12-seat model for executive transport. Bryant had traveled throughout Southern California in it dating back to his playing days with Lakers.
Bryant is the fourth leading scorer in NBA history, an 18-time all-star and surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer when he becomes eligible for induction this summer. It was only on Saturday that current Lakers star LeBron James passed Bryant on the all-time scoring list, and Bryant responded with a tweet sending his congratulations to James.
But Bryant’s fame goes far beyond Los Angeles and beyond basketball. Bryant and Glen Keane won an academy award in 2018 for Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” animated short, based on a poem about his retirement from the NBA in 2016. Bryant was also involved in much charity work, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, youth sports camps and his family’s foundation, which is dedicated, according to its mission statement, to strengthening “communities through educational and cultural enrichment opportunities.”
Bryant’s legacy is a complicated one, though. He was officially charged with felony sexual assault in 2003 for an alleged rape at a Colorado resort, where the then-27-year-old basketball star was staying. The case was dismissed after the accuser, who earlier settled a lawsuit against Bryant for an undisclosed sum, refused to testify against Bryant in the criminal trial.
This is an emerging story. Check back for additional details.
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