One year later: Remembering Kobe Bryant and 8 others who died in helicopter crash
Sydney Kalich and Nexstar Media Wire
CALABASAS, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — It’s been one year since NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a fiery crash after their helicopter plunged into a Southern California hillside.
On Jan. 26, 2020, the group of nine was traveling to a youth basketball tournament when their helicopter plunged into a steep hillside in the dense morning fog just outside of Los Angeles, prompting an outpouring of shock and grief from around the world.
Aboard the plane was: Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri Altobelli, 46, their daughter and teammate of Gianna’s Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45, her daughter and teammate of Gianna’s Payton Chester, 13; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
The helicopter took off at around 9 a.m. at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The crash was called in after 9:45 a.m. after reports of smoke in the Calabasas hillside outside of Los Angeles.
In the hours following the crash, stunned fans gathered at makeshift memorials near the crash site and the Staples Center, to honor the five-time NBA champion and Lakers legend.
Mourners wore Lakers jerseys as they dropped off basketballs, purple and gold flowers and balloons at makeshift memorials around the Staples Center. Murals appeared throughout Los Angeles and the world honoring the crash victims. In New York City, the Empire State building was lit up in purple and gold to honor the Lakers legend.
A formal memorial was held for Bryant and the rest of the crash victims a month later at the Staples Center. Speakers include Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Vanessa Bryant with performances by Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.
Bryant was born in Philadelphia. He was drafted right out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets but was quickly traded to the Lakers. Widely considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Lakers. He won five NBA Championships, famously winning three championships in a row alongside O’Neal.
He was the Lakers all-time leading scorer and two-time Olympic goal medalist. Bryant made the NBA All-Star team 18 times and received the MVP award four times before his retirement in 2016. Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have two jersey numbers retired from the same team. Bryant changed numbers from eight to 24, halfway through his career.
Bryant coined himself the “Black Mamba” and became known for his hardworking mindset – the Mamba mentality.
Bryant lived in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, and regularly traveled by helicopter to avoid the city’s infamous traffic. He traveled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that produced an Academy Award-winning animated short film.
Bryant had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s soccer and other endeavors. Before his death, Bryant had helped coach Gianna’s eighth grade club team at his Mamba Sports Academy.
Bryant married Vanessa Bryant in 2001. The pair had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri.
There were periods of separation between the pair. In 2003, Bryant was arrested in connection with a Colorado sexual assault after a hotel worker accused him of rape. Bryant denied assaulting the worker but admitted to having consensual sex with her. The case was dropped when the woman refused to testify against Bryant.
Gianna, better known as Gigi, had a promising youth basketball career and a competitive pugnaciousness that reminded everybody of her dad. Coined the “Mambacita”, Gigi was expected to continue her father’s basketball legacy.
“I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gigi said in an interview with NewsNation affiliate KLAS in 2019, when she and her dad attended the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA opener. “More information, more inspiration.”
Eight Los Angeles County deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the scene, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, adding that he had ordered the images deleted. He said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.
Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit in September against the Los Angeles County sheriff. She alleges the sheriff’s actions constituted a “cover-up” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.
The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, said it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.
The board said in June the pilot likely became disoriented in the fog.
The crash’s cause is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said last week it would hold a hearing on Feb. 9 to determine the probable cause of the Jan. 2020 crash.