CALABASAS, Calif. – Coroner officials worked on Monday to rescue the remains of the victims from a hill outside of Los Angeles where a helicopter crashed with Kobe Bryant and eight others in foggy weather that left local police departments had grounded their own helicopters.
About 20 investigators were on site when everyone on board was killed on Sunday morning in a wreck that left debris the size of a soccer field.
The accident caused a wave of sadness and shock worldwide about the sudden loss of the great basketball player who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thousands of fans, many of whom wore Bryant jerseys and sang his name, gathered outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and host of the Sunday Grammy Awards, which honored Bryant.
41-year-old Bryant, who died with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was one of the game's most popular players, an 18-time all-star who led the Lakers to five NBA championships.
While investigators have not yet determined the cause of the wreck, the tragedy immediately raised the question of whether the pilot, whose name has not been released, should have been allowed to fly in this weather. At that time, the Los Angeles Police Department and the district sheriff department had grounded their own helicopters.
The Los Angeles County coroner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas said the rough terrain is hampering efforts to recover the remains. He estimated that it would take at least a few days for the task to be completed.
Three bodies were recovered on Sunday afternoon before the darkness forced the search to be lifted.
The Sikorsky S-76 crashed in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The authorities didn't say where Bryant was going, but the helicopter drove toward his youth sports academy in Thousand Oaks, which held a basketball tournament on Sunday, attended by Bryant's daughter, known as Gigi.
Bryant's helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, just after 9:00 a.m., and flew north and then west. Air traffic controllers noticed poor visibility around Burbank in the north and Van Nuys in the northwest. According to Flightradar24, the plane crashed at around 9.45 a.m. at 426 meters.
When the helicopter landed on the ground, it flew at a speed of more than 4,000 feet per minute and took off at a speed of 160 knots (184 miles per hour).
KBOI-TV in Boise, Idaho, reported that a girls' team set to play against Gigi Bryant's team returned home on Sunday evening after learning about the fatal crash during the tournament at Bryants Mamba Sports Academy.
"Suddenly the games fell silent, the entire facility went silent," said George Rodriguez, coach of the Treasure Valley Hoop Dreams team, the broadcaster. "We heard some girls screaming. Nobody really knew what was going on until the news spread and the news went on about the tragic stuff that had happened to Kobe. "
Federal Safety Investigators were sent to the scene. Among other things, they will look at the pilot's history and the helicopter's maintenance records, said Jennifer Homendy, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Kurt Deetz, a pilot who flew Bryant in the helicopter, said the crash was due to bad weather rather than engine or other mechanical problems.
"The likelihood of a catastrophic twin engine failure on this plane – it just doesn't happen," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Justin Green, an aviation lawyer in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps, said pilots could become disoriented in poor visibility and lose track of which direction is up. According to Green, a pilot flying an S-76 is instrument-tested, which means that one person can fly the helicopter without having to rely on visual cues from outside.
Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying plane or a helicopter.
"It was very foggy so we couldn't see anything," he said. "But then we heard a sputter and then a boom."
The fog cleared a little and Storm could see smoke rising from the slope in front of his house.
Firefighters traveled with medical equipment and tubing, and medical personnel were dragged to the construction site by helicopter, but found no survivors, the authorities said.
News of the charismatic superstar's death shot through the world of sports and entertainment, and many went to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief, and fear.
“Words cannot describe the pain I feel. I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me, ”said retired NBA star Michael Jordan. “We talked a lot and I will miss these conversations very much. He was a tough competitor, one of the game's greats, and a creative force. "
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third leading goalscorer in the history of the NBA and ended two decades with the Lakers as an extremely successful shooter with a great all-round game and relentless competitive pressure. He held this place in the league standings until Saturday night when LeBron James the Lakers overtook him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant's hometown.
He was the league MVP in 2008 and two-time NBA defending champion. He partnered with Shaquille O’Neal in a flammable partnership to lead the Lakers to successive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In 2009 and 2010 he won two more titles.
His tenure as Lakers was affected by a scandal when Bryant was accused in 2003 of raping a 19-year-old clerk at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and the prosecutor later dropped the sexual assault charges at the prosecutor's request. The woman filed a civil suit against Bryant, which was settled out of court.
Among the dead were John Altobelli, 56, long-time head coach of the Southern California baseball team Orange Coast College; his wife Keri; and daughter Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter, said Altobelli's brother Tony, sports information director at the school.
The Mayor of Costa Mesa, Katrina Foley, tweeted that the dead included Christina Mauser, a basketball coach at a nearby primary school. Her husband Matt Mauser said in a Facebook post: “My children and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mother in a helicopter crash today. "
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