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Kobe Bryant helicopter crash: All bodies recovered, latest on investigation, tributes to NBA star

Investigators walk down the bulldozed dirt road Tuesday morning, Jan. 28, 2020 after working at the hillside scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other people Sunday morning near the intersection of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street in Calabasas, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

An investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Philadelphia native and Lower Merion High School graduate Kobe Bryant is under way, as tributes continue to pour for the NBA star, his daughter, and the seven others who died in the California crash.

The sudden death of the 41-year-old Lakers great was a shock to sports fans, fellow athletes, and celebrities throughout the country. The site of the crash near Los Angeles, meanwhile, posed challenges for the investigators tasked with combing through the wreckage and determining what happened.

Officials said Tuesday that the bodies of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others who died in a helicopter crash all have been recovered from a Calabasas hillside. Authorities on Sunday removed the bodies of at least three victims from the wreckage. Remains of the six remaining victims were located Monday, and their bodies have been taken to the Los Angeles County coroner’s forensic science center.

Bryant’s chartered helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B, crashed and burst into flames just before 10 a.m. PST on Sunday. The group was reportedly headed to a basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Newbury Park when the craft went down.

In addition to the Bryants, the other victims have been identified as Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, 56; his wife, Kerry, 46; and their daughter, Alyssa, 13, who was Gianna’s basketball teammate; Mamba Academy assistant basketball coach Christina Mauser, 39; Sarah Chester, 45, and her daughter Payton, 13, another teammate of Gianna’s; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.

The cause of the crash is not yet known, and the National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation. The agency has said a team of 18 investigators will examine foggy weather conditions present at the time of the flight, as well as the helicopter pilot’s history, and helicopter maintenance records, among other factors.

The helicopter, which made about two dozen similar flights in the last two years, was not equipped with a black box, flight data recorder, or cockpit voice recorder, the Los Angeles Times reports. However, investigators recovered an iPad with the app ForeFlight installed, which allows pilots to log weather briefings and flight plans. The NTSB said Monday that having a black box aboard the helicopter was not required.

Many reports following the crash have focused on poor weather conditions in the area on Sunday, which were bad enough to ground the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division. Fog in the area at the time reportedly did not allow for two miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, which are the LAPD’s “minimum standards for flying,” a department spokesperson told the LA Times.

Meanwhile, some tourists and fans flocked to the area, creating additional difficulties for first responders.

Following news of Bryant’s death on Sunday, tributes to the Philadelphia native began pouring in both locally and from around the country.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge will be lit up in purple all week in honor of Bryant, the Delaware River Port Authority announced Monday.

Several other Philadelphia landmarks followed suit with that tribute to the NBA star, including the Wells Fargo Center and Citizens Bank Park, as well as Boathouse Row, and a number of Center City skyscrapers.

In Los Angeles, a mural honoring Bryant and daughter Gianna popped up.

And in New York, the Empire State Building lit up with purple and goal lights to honor Bryant. A fan also added “Kobe” to the city’s Bryant Park subway stop sign as a tribute, changing it to read “Kobe Bryant Park.”

Bryant’s death was also a topic on late-night television on Monday, thanks to tributes from hosts including Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, and Conan O’Brien. Kimmel spent the entirety of Monday’s audience-less episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! focusing on Bryant, who appeared on the show more than a dozen times.

“This was a terrible loss for those families, for the Lakers, for Kobe’s teammates, for his fans,” Kimmel said. “There’s no silver lining here. It’s all bad. It’s all sad. He was a bright light, and that’s how I want to remember him.”

Sixers great Allen Iverson, a rival from Bryant’s days in the NBA, released a touching tribute via social media, writing that Bryant’s death left him “devastated and heartbroken.” Fellow Lakers star LeBron James, meanwhile, memorialized Bryant online Monday night, asking for “strength from the heavens above.”


© 2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer