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One year ago today, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others boarded a helicopter at John Wayne Airport in Orange County to travel to a youth basketball tournament at the Sports Academy (then named the Mamba Sports Academy, after Bryant) in Thousand Oaks.
But amid extremely foggy weather conditions, the helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas, killing everyone on board.
An icy chill filled the still air Tuesday on that hill. At the spot where the helicopter went down, a white rose was placed upright in the soil next to rocks piled in a figure eight — 8 is one of two jersey numbers Bryant wore during his 20-year NBA career.
On a nearby hiking trail, a purple-and-gold tarp with a massive 24 — Bryant’s other playing number in the Lakers colors — paid tribute to the fallen star. Farther along, a pair of purple and gold carnations were laid out.
Bernard Tolentino of La Puente and Mario Luna of East Los Angeles hiked roughly a mile Tuesday morning to the crash site, observing a moment of silence for their basketball hero and the parents, coaches and teenagers who died there.
“We are here to pay our respects to Kobe and all those lost on the year anniversary,” Tolentino said.
Clad in a Lakers shirt with an 8 on the front and 24 on the back, Tolentino said he had followed Bryant since the basketball legend's rookie days. The loss, he said, is still painful to contemplate.
“How could they all be taken like this?” the 37-year-old mused. His shirt included a heart below the right shoulder with the numeral 2 — Gianna's jersey number. “Kobe meant everything to Los Angeles. We lost our favorite son.”
Luna, 39, said he was surprised more fans hadn't found their way to the area above Las Virgenes Road, though he said they saw one man place the giant 24 flag on the hillside at 4 a.m.
The morning was far different from a year ago, when dense fog shrouded the Santa Monica Mountains, cloaking the dangerous peaks.
Calabasas resident John Wordin said he rode his mountain bike on the trail fairly regularly and noted, “It is so nice today with the sun out. It is the polar opposite of a year ago.”
The helicopter carrying Bryant and the others lacked a TAWS, a terrain awareness and warning system. The lack of such safety equipment, which was not required by the Federal Aviation Administration, placed a new and urgent focus on what many had long considered significant flaws in federal aviation regulation.
Reform efforts had stalled as opposition from the aviation industry, combined with a Congress overwhelmed with the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, pushed helicopter safety to the back burner.
But on the eve of the anniversary of the helicopter crash, California’s senior senator and a local congressman announced they would try again to improve chopper safety through legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Northridge) on Monday reintroduced the Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act, a bill that would require terrain awareness and warning systems on all helicopters that carry six or more passengers. Despite a 2006 National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that such equipment be mandatory on all helicopters, the FAA, which sets flight rules, requires the system only on helicopter air ambulances.
On Tuesday, Anthony Calderon of West Hills hiked up to the crash site.
“We are just thinking: What would Kobe do? It is a hard hike. But this is for Kobe. This is the greatest hike of my life,” said Calderon, 33, as he carefully placed purple carnations on the Number 8 rock formation.
“It is the first time I have shed a tear for an idol,” Calderon said of Bryant's death. His wife had told him Bryant had been killed, he said, and he first thought she was joking — but then he saw the news online.
“He’s been my idol since I was a kid.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.