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Published 01/26/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 41 sec
By Stefanie Dazio, with the Associated Press
CALABASAS, Calif. (AP) — NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a steep hillside in dense morning fog in Southern California on Sunday, his sudden death at age 41 touching off an outpouring of grief for a star whose celebrity transcended basketball.
The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Authorities said that nine people were aboard the helicopter and presumed dead, after earlier putting the death toll at five. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed, a different person familiar with the case said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not confirm the identities of the victims Sunday afternoon pending official word from the coroner.
“God bless their souls,” Villanueva said at a news conference.
News of Bryant’s death rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and dismay.
“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through,” tweeted Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, who won three NBA titles with Bryant. “@kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. … IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Retired NBA superstar Michael Jordan, to whom Bryant was often compared, expressed similar sentiments.
“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” Jordan said in a statement. “We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”
Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
He teamed with O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.
News of Bryant’s death was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where Bryant was unquestionably the most popular athlete and one of the city’s most beloved public figures. Hundreds of fans — many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved. He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
President Donald Trump reacted to the reports of Bryant’s death soon after they began to surface, tweeting: “That is terrible news!”
The cause of the crash was unknown.
Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.
“Ït was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”
The fog then cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.
Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about a quarter acre (.10 hectares) of dry brush, Osby said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.
“They will look at man, machine and environment,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter-crash litigation.
“They will look at the pilot — was there any indication of fatigue, any indication of a training issue? They’ll scour his or her record,” Robb said. “They will look at this helicopter from stem to stern. They will take the engine to the NTSB metallurgical laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and examine it to see if there was something that malfunctioned in flight.”
Investigators will also consider what role might have been played by weather, terrain, radio towers or bird strikes, he said.
Robb said he has handled many cases involving Sikorsky S-76 crashes and regards the machine as having a good reputation.
“It is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” he said, “but parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”
Along with his work boosting women’s sports, Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball,” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge against Bryant at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
Associated Press staffers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and David Koenig in Dallas and Mark J. Terrill and John Antczak in Calabasas contributed to this story.