Live Updates on Death of Kobe Bryant: Pilot Was Trying to Fly Higher
Fans and Friends Mourn Kobe Bryant After Helicopter Crash
The retired N.B.A. star, 41, was among the passengers in a helicopter that went down in Calabasas, Calif.
“We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero, and we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.” “Tonight is for Kobe —” [singing] “Kobe, my thoughts are with you. Absolutely rest in peace, young man — this loss is, it’s just hard to comprehend.” “He was just such a wonderful kid. But more than that, has turned into a wonderful adult man.” “Everything I do, I do it for him, obviously — really close friend, and this season’s for him.” Crowd: “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.” Announcer: “The N.B.A and the game of basketball will mourn this loss together. Please join us in a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant. Rest in peace, Mamba.”
The retired N.B.A. star, 41, was among the passengers in a helicopter that went down in Calabasas, Calif.CreditCredit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times
Here’s what you need to know:
The pilot said just before the crash that he was trying to gain altitude.
Just before air traffic controllers lost track of the helicopter that was carrying nine people, including Kobe Bryant, on Sunday, the pilot who was at the controls said that he was trying to fly higher to avoid a cloud layer, federal investigators said Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said there was no response from the pilot after controllers asked for more information, and radar suggested that the helicopter ascended to 2,300 feet and began a descending turn to the left.
Although investigators are scrutinizing weather conditions at the time of the crash — part of Southern California was shrouded in fog on Sunday morning — they are also examining the possibility that other issues played a role in the crash.
“We take a broad look at everything around an investigation, around an accident,” Jennifer Homendy, a member of the N.T.S.B., said at a news conference in California on Monday afternoon. “We look at man, machine and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that.”
The helicopter did not carry a cockpit voice recorder, and investigators are spending their days searching a debris field of about 500 to 600 feet, trying to recover perishable evidence. Federal officials are not expected to reach a conclusion about the cause of the accident for months.
But asked Monday whether the crash had been survivable, Ms. Homendy replied: “It was a pretty devastating accident scene.”
The N.B.A. announced that the Lakers-Clippers game scheduled for Tuesday night had been postponed.
The Lakers and the Clippers will not play as planned on Tuesday night, the N.B.A. said Monday, as the players and others throughout basketball grieve the death of Kobe Bryant, a star with the Lakers for two decades.
In a statement, the league said the game had been postponed to a later date, which was not immediately announced, “out of respect for the Lakers organization.”
Soon after the league’s announcement, the Lakers expressed gratitude for the public outpouring of support.
“This is a very difficult time for all of us,” the team said in a statement.
The Lakers last played Saturday, when they lost at Philadelphia, and were traveling back to California when word of the helicopter crash that took Bryant’s life emerged. Staples Center, where both the Lakers and Clippers play their home games, has been the site of impromptu gatherings and tributes since Bryant’s death.
Eight other N.B.A. games scheduled for Tuesday are expected to be played as planned.
The helicopter had received special approval to fly around Burbank in foggy weather.
The helicopter that crashed on Sunday with Kobe Bryant and eight other people on board, killing everyone, had received approval to fly through the controlled airspace around Burbank even though weather conditions were worse than usual standards for flying.
The helicopter flew north from Orange County after takeoff on Sunday morning and circled near Burbank, waiting for clearance to keep going. According to audio records between the helicopter’s pilot and air traffic control at Burbank Airport, the helicopter was given what is known as Special Visual Flight Rules clearance, meaning they could proceed through Burbank’s airspace on a foggy morning in Southern California.
Whether the pilot made the right decision — to continue flying on despite low fog in the hillsides of Calabasas, where the aircraft crashed — will likely be at the center of the investigation into the cause of the crash.
Any special clearance from air traffic controllers would have allowed the pilot to fly through the controlled airspace around Burbank and Van Nuys, but would not give the flight “blanket clearance” to continue on from there to Calabasas, according to a Federal Aviation Administration official.
“A pilot is responsible for determining whether it is safe to fly in current and expected conditions, and a pilot is also responsible for determining flight visibility,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation.
Once the pilot left Burbank’s control zone, the official added, it would have been up to him to either make sure there were appropriate visual flight conditions, or transition to flying solely with the use of his instruments, which would have required an additional F.A.A. clearance.
According to F.A.A. records, the pilot was not only certified to fly under instrument conditions, but to teach other pilots seeking to obtain their instrument ratings. His commercial pilot’s license was issued in 2007.
Officially transitioning to instrument flight rules would have allowed the pilot to go on flying, even with very low visibility, but would not have allowed the flight to land except at an airport. The pilot might also have had to gain altitude in order to be fully visible on radar used by controllers.
Just before losing radio contact, the pilot had asked for “flight following,” which allows controllers to track the flight and be in regular contact, under his “special” visual flight clearance.
The controller responded that the helicopter was “too low level for flight following at this time.”
Sergeant Yvette Tuning, who was the watch commander for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division on the morning of the crash, said that most of the Los Angeles basin was so cloudy that flights could be conducted only under instrument rules, on Sunday morning.
L.A.P.D. helicopters do not generally fly under those conditions because officers need to be able to see while doing air patrols. The visibility was less than two and a half miles from the department’s heliport near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, she said.
She said these conditions occur more often in the winter and early in the summer, when fog along the coast is commonplace.
Tuning said the weather this winter, as it was on Monday morning, has been fairly clear, allowing helicopters to operate normally.
“But yesterday when I came to work I immediately saw it as I came down into the valley, that it was just socked in,” Tuning said. “So I already knew we” — meaning L.A.P.D. Air Support — “weren’t going to be flying unless it burned off quick. And it did not burn off quick.”
A witness said it was so foggy near the crash site, people had trouble driving.
Scott Daehlin, 61, said the fog had been “as thick as swimming in a pool of milk” when he walked out of Church in the Canyon at 9:40 a.m. on Sunday.
He had come out of the Presbyterian church, which is across the street from the crash site, to get sound equipment for the Sunday service, when the sound of a helicopter coming low and loud through the thick marine layer prompted him to look up.
“I couldn’t see anything, not even a silhouette,” he said as he looked across the street where the steep mountainside rose, the grassy slope now littered with wreckage. “My first thought was what in the world is a helicopter doing out here in this fog?”
Low cloud layers are common in the area, but on Sunday the fog was so thick it came nearly to the ground and made visibility so low, church members said, that they had trouble driving.
For about 20 seconds on Sunday morning, Daehlin followed the sound of the helicopter as it swept over the church parking lot and south toward the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. It sounded even and normal, but, he said, “it sounded too low.”
“It sounded almost like the pilot was hovering, trying to find his way,” said Daehlin, who said his father was a pilot. He added “I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I was saying, ‘Get some altitude.’”
Then he heard a loud thump and the crack of what sounded like fiberglass, and all sound from the engines stopped.
He called 911 and directed fire crews to the hillside. He could not see the crash because of the fog, but saw some smoke and heard several pops as the wreckage burned.
Here’s what else we know about the crash.
The aircraft that crashed, shown here in February 2018, was a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter.Credit…Matt Hartman/Associated Press
The retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday, along with seven other victims.
The helicopter was flying from Orange County, Calif., where the Bryant family lives, and crashed in foggy conditions about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles as it was en route to Bryant’s youth basketball academy.
The other passengers included the pilot, Ara Zobayan; the college baseball coach John Altobelli and Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, a basketball coach; and Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter who lived in Orange County.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles County said the helicopter went down in an area with “very rough terrain,” and that even emergency crews had found it dangerous trying to get there during daylight on Sunday. The debris field, he said, was roughly 100 yards in each direction.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it would look at the history of the pilot and any crew on board.
“We’ll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter,” said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the board. “We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter and a number of other things.”
It was not immediately clear how many passengers the helicopter was approved to transport, or whether the helicopter was overloaded.
The chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County, Dr. Jonathan R. Lucas, said it could take several days to recover the bodies from the crash site.
“We will be doing our work thoroughly, quickly and with the utmost compassion,” Lucas said. “We’re doing everything we can to confirm identifications and give closure to the families involved.”
There were nine victims in all.
The helicopter was traveling to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and its passengers included Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who played at the school.
Bryant coached her team, and Gianna, whose nickname was Gigi, was “hellbent” on playing for the University of Connecticut and in the W.N.B.A., he told The Los Angeles Times last year.
At a UConn game last year, the father and daughter sat courtside and Bryant was asked about his daughter picking up the game by SNY. “I watch the game through my daughter’s eyes,” he said.
John Altobelli, 56, a longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa. Calif., was also on the helicopter with his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa, according to a college spokesman.
“This is a tremendous loss for our campus community,” said Angelica Suarez, the president of Orange Coast College, in a statement.
Last year, Altobelli led the Pirates to the California Community College baseball state championship, their fourth state title with the coach, and he was named one of the American Baseball Coaches Association coaches of the year.
Jeff McNeil, a Mets All-Star infielder, had been coached by Altobelli, and told ESPN, “Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted.”
Although the California authorities have not publicly identified the victims, their relatives, friends and employers announced and grieved the deaths. The other victims are:
Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter who lived in Orange County
Christina Mauser, a California basketball coach who had worked with Gianna Bryant
Ara Zobayan, a pilot
Latinos in Los Angeles have had a special connection with Bryant.
Many of the mourners who have grieved Bryant’s death in and around Los Angeles have been Latinos with whom the Lakers star cultivated a special bond over his 20-year career.
“Latino fans are important to me because when I arrived, they were the fans who most passionately embraced me,” he said in 2016 after his final N.B.A. game. “I told them, ‘Give me two or three years so that I can learn a little bit of Spanish.’ Now, my Spanish is not that good, but I can speak a little. They mean everything to me.”
And so as Los Angeles has reeled from the loss of one of its athletic greats, Latino fans have flocked to vigils and memorials, referring to Bryant as “compa,” slang for a friend (and short for the Spanish word “compadre”).
Bryant’s ties to Latinos also extended beyond his professional life: With his wife, Vanessa, he has raised four black Mexican-American daughters in Southern California.
Bryant had a plan for the Mambacita nickname.
Bryant’s company spent years applying for trademarks.
There was Black Mamba, Bryant’s nickname. There was Mamba Mentality. And, more recently, there was Mambacita, Gianna’s nickname.
Bryant’s company applied for the trademark in December, seeking to safeguard a burgeoning brand that seemed poised to become more valuable as Gianna’s basketball stock soared.
Her ambitions included playing in the W.N.B.A., and in a filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, her father’s company suggested it wanted to protect the use of the name Mambacita on athletic shirts and shorts, jerseys, sweatpants and sweatshirts, among other items.
Bryant used the nickname on his Instagram account as recently as Jan. 14, when he posted a video from a gymnasium and said his daughter was “getting better every day.”
Bryant had posted another video with the nickname in November, when he slyly noted “a familiar looking fade.”
The N.B.A. is reflecting on Bryant’s legacy.
Bryant was drafted to the N.B.A. directly out of high school in 1996, helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships, and was named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 seasons for the team. His hypercompetitive nature could lead to drama among coaches and teammates — which sometimes spilled over into public — but his commitment to winning was never questioned.
Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, hailed Bryant as “one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game.”
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” Silver said, adding that Bryant would “be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
Bryant’s tenacity and intensity won him respect from rivals and inspired those who followed him into the game. Tributes from other athletes rolled in on Sunday, as Bryant’s friends and rivals shared what he meant to them. His former teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, said he would hug Bryant’s children “like they were my own.”
Michael Jordan said in a statement that he spoke to Bryant often and that he was “like a little brother to me.” Dwyane Wade, the former Miami Heat star, said on Instagram that Bryant “was who I chased” and that it was “one of the saddest days in my lifetime.”
Bryant’s résumé included the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award for the 2007-8 season, the finals M.V.P. in both 2009 and 2010, an 81-point game in 2006 that is the second-highest single-game total in N.B.A. history and a sterling pedigree on the international stage, where he won gold medals for U.S.A. Basketball in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
In 2016, after various injuries had taken their toll on the longtime superstar, he ended his career by scoring 60 points in his final game.
Off the court, Bryant’s legacy was far more complicated. He was arrested in 2003 after a sexual assault complaint was filed against him in Colorado. A 19-year-old hotel employee claimed that Bryant, who was working to rehabilitate his knee following surgery, had raped her. The legal case against Bryant was eventually dropped, and a civil suit was settled privately out of court, but Bryant publicly apologized for the incident.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said in his statement. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
In retirement, Bryant expanded his purview, winning an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film “Dear Basketball” while also creating the web series “Detail” for ESPN in which he analyzed current players. He was scheduled to headline the 2020 N.B.A. Hall of Fame nominees.
Bryant was a big part of basketball growing outside the United States.
Kobe Bryant may not have been the driver of the N.B.A.’s extraordinary growth abroad, but he was a core vehicle for it, acting as an ambassador for basketball throughout his career, both for the league’s interests and his own. He played on two Olympic teams, winning gold medals in 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London). In 2018, Bryant was named, along with Yao Ming, a global ambassador for last year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup.
“Stern’s vision was always to make the N.B.A. a global sport and certainly, he was a commissioner who embraced that,” Michael Veley, a professor of sport management at Syracuse University, said. “But he needed players to also buy into that. It started with the Olympic team — The Dream Team — but after some of the superstars like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, the baton had to be passed on to other people who not only were going to be great players, but were going to represent the sport and talk about it on an international stage.”
Matteo Zuretti, the head of international relations for the N.B.A. players union, said in an interview that Bryant’s dominant play alone helped the league encourage more people outside the United States to take up the sport.
“When you are an international player and you stay up until 4 a.m. to watch your idol play, you’re so much removed from him that you develop a special connection,” Zuretti said. “Kobe had been super relevant for people in Los Angeles. But for a generation of international players, he was the winner and idol.”
People around the world are mourning Bryant’s death.
Three American presidents and athletes, celebrities and fans around the world grieved for Bryant, who became a superstar as basketball grew into an international sensation.
President Trump said that Bryant was “just getting started in life,” even after a career that forever marked him as one of basketball’s greats.
“He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future,” the president wrote on Twitter. “The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating.”
Former President Barack Obama, who once welcomed the Lakers to the White House, posted on Twitter that Bryant was “a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”
The death of Bryant’s daughter, the former president added, “is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who was in the White House when Bryant ascended to the N.B.A., and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, extolled how Bryant “brought excitement and joy to basketball fans not just in Los Angeles, but all over the U.S. and around the world.”
The Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr. paid tribute to Bryant, as did the tennis player Naomi Osaka, who thanked him “for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses.”
Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback whose kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racism and police brutality inspired a number of athletes to speak out publicly, said on Twitter that he would remember Bryant as a “basketball legend, a father & a man.”
The Italian Basketball Federation said on Monday that it would hold a moment of silence in every game this week for Bryant, who lived in Italy from ages 6 to 13 while his father played professional basketball there.
Bryant was fluent in Italian, and once said it would be a “dream” to play for the country, but in 2011, when an Italian team, Virtus Bologna, offered him a one-year contract during the N.B.A. lockout, the deal fell through, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the federation said in a statement. Bryant, the statement said, “was and will always be linked to our country.”
Bryant was a global star to many, but a local hero to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles woke up Monday grappling with the loss of a global superstar who was, to Southern California, still a local hero. On Sunday, spontaneous shrines and vigils cropped up around the region, including outside Staples Center, the home of the Lakers, the team he played with for 20 seasons.
“He was not a perfect man, but we all have our faults,” Joe Rivas, a 28-year-old registered nurse, said on Sunday. “It’s beyond basketball.”
Los Angeles County officials have been worried by the number of people who tried to visit the crash site, which they said is located amid challenging terrain.
“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,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Sunday evening. “We have to reiterate that it is off-limits to everybody except the first responders and investigators.”
Mourners, he said, could gather at a nearby park.
Tuesday promises to be a challenging day in Los Angeles, where the Lakers will play their first game since Bryant’s death. Their opponent? The Los Angeles Clippers.
The Washington Post suspended a reporter who tweeted about sexual assault allegations made against Bryant in 2003.
The Washington Post suspended one of its reporters, Felicia Sonmez, after she published a series of tweets about Bryant in the hours after his death.
Sonmez initially tweeted a link to a Daily Beast article about sexual assault allegations made against Bryant in 2003 — a missive that stood out in the general outpouring of appreciation for Bryant and drew a swift backlash.
She followed up with a post about the negative responses she had received, including a screenshot of an email she had received that used offensive language, called her a lewd name and displayed the sender’s full name.
It was not immediately clear if any specific tweet prompted the suspension, and The Post said it was reviewing “whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy.”
Separately, as the sheriff of Los Angeles County, Alex Villanueva, gave one of his first official update on the investigation, he declined to say whether Bryant was one of the victims and offered a pointed rebuke to the news organization that broke the news.
“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” he said. “That is just wholly inappropriate so we are not going to be going there. We are going to wait until the coroner does their job.”
TMZ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The news media also drew criticism on Sunday after inaccurate reports circulated that four of Bryant’s children were killed in the crash, and a reporter for ABC News apologized for the report.
Reporting was contributed by Louis Keene, Kevin Draper, Elena Bergeron, Jennifer Medina, Neil Vigdor, Sopan Deb, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Sarah Mervosh, Marc Stein, Jill Cowan, Miriam Jordan, Mihir Zaveri, Jon Hurdle, Rachel Abrams, Benjamin Hoffman, Jonah Engel Bromwich and Daniel Victor.
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