An investigation is ongoing into a helicopter crash that occurred in the Santa Monica Mountains on Sunday morning, Jan. 26, claiming the lives of all nine passengers aboard, including NBA superstar and longtime Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine victims in the Calabasas crash, according to a flight manifest released by law enforcement investigators. Other victims included two basketball teammates of Gianna, their parents and the pilot.
Of the nine people thought to have been aboard the helicopter when it crashed just after 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, the remains of four had been positively identified by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner–Coroner’s Office by the time The Malibu Times went to print on Tuesday:
John Altobelli, 56
Kobe Bryant, 41
Sarah Chester, 45
Ara Zobayan, 50
The five remaining victims were named in the flight manifest as Keri Altobelli, 46, and Alyssa Altobelli, 13; Gianna Bryant, 13; Payton Chester, 13; and Christina Mauser, 38.
The group, made up of players, family and coaching staff, was traveling from Long Beach to Newbury Park to attend a travel basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy.
As of Tuesday afternoon, all remains had been cleared from the accident site.
“The coroners have removed all remains. They’re going through the identification process to conclude with the other five victims of the accident,” LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 28.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Malibu/Lost Hills Station reported an aircraft crash in Calabasas on Sunday, with LA County Fire Department (LACoFire) personnel dispatched at 9:49 a.m. According to LACoFire, the crash took place near the intersection of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street. The aircraft was confirmed to have been a helicopter, later identified as a Sikorsky S-76B.
LACoFire dispatch supervisor Art Marrujo said it was confirmed as of 11:52 a.m. Sunday that there were no survivors in the crash.
The helicopter crash also sparked a “small brush fire,” Marrujo said, which was soon extinguished.
Officials from both LACoFire and LASD remained on scene, later joined by coroner’s investigators and a team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has launched its own investigation.
NTSB member Jennifer Homendy addressed the media’s questions on Tuesday afternoon, describing items such as an iPad that may have belonged to the pilot were recovered from the crash. She described the NTSB using a drone to gather information on the flight path and said the investigation would go on for 12 to 18 more months. She also shared some preliminary information.
“We know the helicopter was at 2,300 feet when it lost communications with air traffic control,” Homendy said. “The descent rate for the helicopter was over 2,000 feet a minute, so we know this was a high energy impact crash.” Following questions, Homendy added, “The time from descent to impact was probably about a minute.”
The National Weather Service had posted warnings on social media Saturday evening and Sunday morning reporting “gusty wind” and “dense fog” in Ventura and Los Angeles counties; however, weather was not discussed at the Tuesday press conference.
In the time since the crash, memorials to Bryant, whose career with the Lakers spanned 20 years and yielded five NBA championships, have appeared across the country and especially here in Southern California.
Large crowds descended on the Staples Center in downtown LA on Sunday, where the Lakers play, and again the following days. The LED-lighted pilons outside Los Angeles International Airport were lit up gold and purple, the Lakers’ colors, to honor Bryant, as were Los Angeles City Hall and the Empire State Building in New York City.
At the site of the crash, which had been closed to vehicular traffic until Tuesday, a makeshift memorial appeared, despite officials asking the public to avoid the area.
“Roads are open; however, the crash site is now a hazmat scene,” Villanueva said. “We still have fuel in the ground, we still have magnesium, other elements, that we need to have removed and we’re working with the insurance carrier with the aircraft company to handle that.”
The City of Calabasas designated DeAnza Park at Las Virgenes and Lost Hills as an area to lay flowers and pay respects.
Flora Adamian contributed to this report.