Retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was among those killed in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles on Sunday, according to multiple U.S. media reports.
At an afternoon press conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not name any of those who lost their lives, saying their identities had yet to be confirmed by the coroner’s office.
“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one was perished and you learned about it from TMZ,” he said in reference to the U.S. gossip website that first reported on Bryant’s death.
“That is just wholly inappropriate, so we’re not going to be going there.”
Authorities received a call at 9:47 a.m. PT to respond to reports of a helicopter crash and a brushfire.
The wreckage was found on a hillside in Calabasas, Calif., located just outside Los Angeles. The helicopter went down in hilly terrain amid foggy conditions, according to both Reuters and The Associated Press.
Villanueva said nine people — eight plus the pilot — were on the aircraft’s manifest. There were no survivors.
The Associated Press and other U.S. media outlets reported that John Altobelli, a Southern California community college baseball coach, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter, were among the other victims.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76, crashed under “unknown circumstances.”
The agency, which is investigating along with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), is on scene, Villanueva said.
The NTSB told reporters it would be sending 18 people to the crash site.
Investigators will be considering factors such as the history of the pilot as well as the aircraft’s maintenance records.
At an evening press conference, Villanueva said the investigation involves multiple agencies and could take weeks. The FAA has secured a five-mile restriction for the crash site along with a 5,000-foot ceiling above, he added.
He called it a “logistical nightmare” as the crash site is not easily accessible.
“However, we’re now faced with, I guess, well-wishers and people mourning who have descended on the area, on the residential community and even the crash site itself,” Villanueva told reporters.
He said the area is off-limits to everyone except first responders and investigators.
“If you do not have an identification that establishes you as a local resident, you will not be permitted access to the area,” Villanueva said. Anyone in the area who wants to “express their condolences” at this tragic time can go to a park called De Anza, he added.
Villanueva said the conditions at the time of impact are “still yet to be determined.”
“We do know there was an issue of visibility and a low ceiling,” he said, adding that the L.A. County Sheriffs’ department had no helicopters operating in the area “because of the weather.”
The L.A. County chief medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said his team’s recovery efforts have begun and that, given the terrain, it will take “at least a couple, if not a few, days.”
“Our next priority after recovery is identification and notification of the families, all of which we will do as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
Bryant, 41, retired from the NBA in 2016 after spending two decades with the Los Angles Lakers.
He won five NBA championship rings with the team, and was named an NBA All-Star 18 times.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
“He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game,” he said, adding a list of Bryant’s accomplishments including his two Olympic gold medals.
Originally from Philadelphia, Bryant signed with the NBA out of high school and played his first game with the Lakers just after his 18th birthday.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
In retirement, Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field.
He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to Dear Basketball. He also produced content for ESPN.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had three daughters in addition to Gianna: Natalia, Bianka and Capri, who was born in June 2019.
A moment of silence was held ahead of the Toronto Raptors – San Antonio Spurs game on Sunday.
Both teams then purposely received 24-second shot clock violations at the start of the game in honour of Bryant, moves that were met with standing ovations from fans.
Bryant wore the number 24 for part of his career.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team was retiring the number in Bryant’s honour.
Toronto Raptors shooting guard Norman Powell said Bryant was the reason he chose the number 24.
“I learned all about the grind and what it means to be a competitor from you,” he said in an Instagram post.
Many other tributes to Bryant poured in on social media.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who said he’s known Bryant since he was a boy, called him an “incredible family man.”
“He loved his wife and daughters,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a video posted to Twitter. “He was an incredible athlete and a leader in a lot of ways. He inspired a whole generation of young athletes.”
Shaquille O’Neal said he had no words to express his grief upon losing his niece Gianna and Bryant.
“I love (you) and (you) will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I’M SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Michael Jordan called Bryant a fierce competitor and a “creative force.”
“I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” Jordan said in a statement issued by his spokesperson. “We used to talk often and I will miss those conversations very much.”
“Shocked and in complete disbelief… A father, husband, legend, and idol gone way too soon,” said Canadian NHL star P.K. Subban. “Thank you for the time, the lessons, and 20 years of greatness.”
“Like everyone, I’m stunned and saddened by the news about Kobe Bryant. My heart is broken for his wife and family,” said Ellen DeGeneres.
NFL quarterback Tom Brady said, “We miss you already Kobe.”
“Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life,” Trump tweeted.
“He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating.”
Obama said Bryant was a “legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”
–With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and Global News’ Maryam Shah and Ryan Rocca
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