L.A. pays tribute on anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA JANUARY 26, 2021-People workout in front of a mural of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on the 1-year anniversary of their death outside of Hardcore Fitness Bootcamp in Downtown Los Angeles Tueswday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
People work out in front of a mural of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna outside Hardcore Fitness Bootcamp in downtown Los Angeles on the one-year anniversary of the Bryants' deaths. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Men hike near where the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others crashed last year in Calabasas.
Bernard Tolentino, 37, left, from La Puente, hikes with Mario Luna, 39, of East L.A., in Calabasas. The men walked to where a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others crashed in Calabasas. They held a moment of silence in respect for all who died in the crash one year ago today. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

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.

In a field of dry brush, rocks are arranged into a figure eight.
Rocks form the number 8 at the site of the Jan. 26, 2020, helicopter crash on a Calabasas hillside. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

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.”

A man holds up his cellphone to take a picture of another man in front of a mural of Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform.
Steven Stewart, right, and Ben Eliyahu take a photo in front of a downtown L.A. mural of Kobe Bryant. The two were visiting all the Kobe murals they could find on the anniversary of Bryant's death. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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.”

Morning sun illuminates flowers lying amid brush on a hill.
The morning sun illuminates purple and yellow flowers on a Calabasas hillside. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Anthony Calderon raises his arms in silence on the mountainside in Calabasas.
Anthony Calderon, 33, of West Hills raises his arms in silence on the mountainside in Calabasas where Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Dontate Matthews, 30, of Calabasas places flowers on rocks arranged to form the number 8 in Calabasas.
Dontate Matthews, 30, of Calabasas places flowers on rocks arranged to form the number 8 in Calabasas. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Anthony Calderon, 33, brought flowers and arranged rocks in a figure 8 on the mountainside in Calabasas.
Anthony Calderon, 33, of West Hills brought flowers and arranged rocks in a figure 8 on the mountainside in Calabasas. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A large plastic tarp shows Kobe Bryant's number 24 in purple and gold
Before sunrise a hiker placed a large plastic tarp with Kobe Bryant's number 24 on the New Millennium Loop Trail near the Bark Park trailhead in Calabasas. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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