NBA legend Kobe Bryant was one of nine killed in a helicopter crash late Sunday morning in Calabasas, California. The 5-time NBA Champion, 18-time NBA All-Star and retired Los Angeles Laker great was 41.
Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash on board along with one of her teammates and that teammate's parent. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced in a press conference late Sunday afternoon that there were nine people killed in the crash. Initial reports indicated that there were five fatalities.
Also among the victims was coaching legend John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa. There were no survivors.
Kobe Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna at the WNBA All Star Game at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo)
Around 10:30 a.m. PST Sunday, the LA County Sheriff's Department reported near Calabasas a helicopter had crashed and burst into flames. The images included in a tweet from the department showed fog in the area.
According to ESPN, the first 911 call regarding the tragedy was placed at 9:47 a.m., local time.
"An onshore flow led to the development of low clouds and fog that settled in late Saturday evening for much of the area. The low clouds and fog remained in place through midday Sunday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Danielle Knittle said. "Winds were very light around the time of the crash at less than 5 mph."
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) January 26, 2020
Investigation of the crash is still ongoing. Daryl Osby, Los Angeles County fire chief, said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was on the scene and will work with the National Transportation Safety Board to analyze what went wrong in the tragic final moments. The FAA released a statement later on Sunday that the agency, as well as the NTSB, will investigate the S-76 helicopter crash.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles County chief medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said the terrain and condition of the crash site will delay the recovery efforts and completion of the investigation for numerous days.
Fog was so prevalent in the area around the time of the crash that the Los Angeles Police Department grounded its helicopter fleet.
According to Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesperson, the department grounded its Air Support Division helicopters earlier on Sunday due to foggy conditions and didn't resume flying until later in the afternoon.
"The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying," Rubenstein confirmed to CNN.
Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA star Kobe Bryant died, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
The crash occurred near Las Virgenes Road, south of Agoura Road, a watch commander for the LA County Sheriff's Department told the Los Angeles Times.
"The cloud ceiling was around 1,100 feet at the time of the crash. The visibility would have been poor even in fog-free areas for the pilot, who was flying between around 1,000 and 3,000 feet," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Frank Strait said.
On Monday, reports surfaced indicating that the doomed helicopter's pilot had been given clearance from a control tower at Burbank Airport to fly using "special visual flight rules," or SVFR. CNN reported on Monday that audio of the discussion between the pilot and an air traffic controller had been captured by LiveATC.net, a website that streams live air traffic control communications online.
When an SVFR is granted, pilots are allowed to operate an aircraft in worse conditions than are ordinarily allowed under "standard visual flight rules, or VFR.
According to the recording, the pilot confirmed with the air traffic controller that he would "maintain special VFR at or below 2,500." The pilot later asked the control tower for "flight following," a practice in which an air traffic controller stays in regular touch with a pilot. But in this case, air traffic control informed the pilot he was flying too low for flight following to be engaged, according to the CNN report.
One eyewitness talked with the L.A. Times about how fog affected his view of the aircraft's final moments. The distressed chopper caught the attention of Jerry Kocharian, who was standing outside a church, because of the low altitude at which it was flying and the unusual sound he said it made as it flew overhead.
"It was real low," the 62-year-old told the L.A. Times. "I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy." Kocharian added that the helicopter vanished into the fog and seconds later he heard the sound made by it crashing to the ground.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) in action during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Bryant's death came less than one day after Lakers forward LeBron James passed him for third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"Continue to move the game forward, @KingJames," Bryant tweeted Saturday night about James' accomplishment. "Much respect my brother."
Shocked and heartbroken, fans began to gather at the Staples Center, a multi-purpose arena in Downtown Los Angeles where Bryant scored a single-game career-high 81 points in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors.
Support for the Bryant family poured in from around the world. Throughout Europe, where Bryant was born in Italy, and Asia, where Bryant was massively beloved since the 2008 Summer Olympics soccer clubs such as AC Milan and Real Madrid shared their condolences.
"My thoughts go out to the Bryant family & the families of all those who lost loved ones today," Tsai Ing-Wen, the recently elected President of Taiwan, said on Twitter. "Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players, & his legacy will live on through those who loved him."
And in the U.S. both the president and his predecessor expressed condolences in posts on Twitter. Former President Barack Obama extended his sorrow, love and prayers to Bryant's wife, Vanessa. And President Donald Trump did the same, saying, "Melania and I send our warmest condolences."
Former teammates and competitors also took to social media to express their grief and condolences to the Bryant family later in the day, Hall of Fame teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
There's no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020