Makeshift memorials that included flowers, notes, balloons, trinkets and basketballs left at Staples Center by fans have since been picked up, with Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, requesting that some be catalogued and sent to her. Flowers will be composted and used in landscaping near Staples Center.
Here’s where the investigation and tributes stand.
When is the memorial service?
A memorial service for Bryant and Gianna will be held at 10 a.m. Pacific time Feb. 24 at Staples Center, the “House that Kobe Built” during his Lakers career. The 02-24-2020 date, which comes four weeks and a day after the crash, signifies the numbers worn by Gianna (2) and Bryant (24), as well as his 20 years as a Laker and 20-year relationship with his wife.
Beyond the Instagram from Vanessa Bryant, as of Feb. 7, no further information has been announced about the exact nature of the service or how tickets would be distributed.
Staples Center hosted the 2009 memorial service for singer Michael Jackson, with 17,000 tickets distributed by online lottery. Vanessa Bryant made her first public comments in an Instagram post three days after the crash claimed the lives of her husband, daughter and seven others as they traveled to a basketball tournament.
“We really want to listen to Vanessa, to the Lakers, and make sure that we have a chance and the right way to mourn together, as people have been doing spontaneously out on the streets in the next day or two,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said after the crash. “Laying him to rest will be something which we are here, ready to help support the family however, wherever and whenever.”
Who were the victims?
The former Los Angeles Lakers star and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in the Jan. 26 crash. The other victims included John and Keri Altobelli and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter Payton; Christina Mauser, an assistant coach on the girls’ team Kobe Bryant coached and on which the young girls were teammates; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
The bodies of all nine had been recovered from the site by Jan. 28 and four — Kobe Bryant, John Altobelli, Sarah Chester and Zobayan — were identified through the use of fingerprints, the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner announced. On Jan. 29, office announced that the bodies of the other five victims, including Gianna and her two teammates, had been identified using what the medical examiner-coroner’s office said was “round-the-clock testing and analysis of DNA.” The medical examiner-coroner’s office listed the cause of death for each as “blunt trauma” with the onset of death described as “rapid” and the manner of death listed as “accident.”
A memorial service for the Altobellis was held Monday evening in Angel Stadium. Services for Mauser, an assistant coach to Bryant, are set for Feb. 16 at Edison High School in Huntington Beach. Mauser, a wife and mother of three who worked at Mamba, attended that school and formerly coached at Gianna’s Harbor Day School. A memorial service was held Saturday for the Chesters at Saint Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, where Payton was a student.
Vanessa Bryant thanked “the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time” in her first public comments since the tragedy. “I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them,” she wrote on Instagram. “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way.”
Vanessa Bryant used the social media post to announce the creation of a MambaOnThree Fund, with all donations going to the other families affected by the tragedy. It was named for Team Mamba’s mantra.
In a subsequent posting, she wrote: “Praying for all of the victims of this horrible tragedy. Please continue to pray for all.”
Why were they flying in a helicopter?
The pilot and his eight passengers were headed northwest from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Camarillo Airport near Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant was to coach his daughter’s Team Mamba in a noon game in a tournament. Bryant often took helicopters to beat Los Angeles traffic and, with the academy as much as a three-hour drive from Bryant’s home, the group boarded his usual chartered chopper with his usual pilot at the controls.
What went wrong?
The Sikorsky S-76B hit the hillside at a high speed, for reasons that investigators have not yet determined, and burst into flames. It crashed in a mountain bike park in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, about 17 miles from the academy.
911 calls released
Multiple 911 calls were placed when the helicopter sent down and audio of those were released by KABC. Although the area is remote, there are hiking trails through the hills and people frequently walk their dogs there. Callers described thick fog and said they were unable to see the helicopter. “I’m walking in the trail I could hear the plane [sic], I think it was, in the clouds, but couldn’t see it,” one caller said. “Then we just heard a ‘boom’ and a dead sound and then I could see the flames.” Another told the dispatcher, "“It went over my head. It’s thick in clouds. I heard a pop and it immediately stopped.”
Who is investigating?
A National Transportation Safety Board team, along with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI, began investigating the crash as quickly as investigators could get close enough to the smoldering wreckage. On Jan. 28, an NTSB member said that the agency had finished its inspection of the site and was turning it over to local authorities.
What did the preliminary report indicate?
In a preliminary report issued Feb. 7, the NTSB said there was no evidence of mechanical problems of failure in either of the two engines recovered from the scene. “Examination of the main and tail rotor assemblies found damage consistent with powered rotation at the time of impact,” the report stated, indicating that they were supplying power at impact.
Video released by the agency showed the helicopter disappearing into clouds, then emerging in front of a witness on a mountain bike trail just before it crashed. The witness told the investigators he heard a helicopter getting closer before emerging from clouds, rolling onto its left to the point that the witness could see its underside, and crashing about 50 feet below him, according to the report.
A final report with conclusions about the cause of the crash could take a year or so. Investigators will look at the helicopter maintenance records as well as debris; the pilot’s experience and actions; the weather; and what officials call the “cascade of errors” that can occur as an emergency escalates, especially in foggy conditions like those prevalent on the morning of the crash.
“Our investigators have already developed a substantial amount of evidence about the circumstances of this tragic crash,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement Feb. 7. “And we are confident that we will be able to determine its cause as well as any factors that contributed to it so we can make safety recommendations to prevent accidents like this from occurring again.”
The NTSB added that “number of personal electronic devices were recovered from the wreckage and will be examined for any relevant data.” According to maintenance records, there were no outstanding FAA airworthiness directives for the helicopter, and all inspections were up to date.
Several days after the crash, the wreckage was catalogued and placed on a flatbed truck to be driven to an aircraft yard, reportedly in Phoenix, where the NTSB analyzes debris from accidents.
What is the crash area like?
In addition to a wide debris field, the site is not easily accessible to vehicles. Curious onlookers, who arrived almost immediately, further complicated efforts to remove the victims’ remains and comb the site. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office locked down the perimeter, with deputies patrolling on horseback and all-terrain vehicles.
What sort of helicopter were they using?
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, owned by Island Express charter service, was described by aviation analyst Miles O’Brien as “a workhorse.” The model was favored by Bryant and other celebrities because of its comfort and safety record. “It’s the flying Lincoln Town Car for executives,” O’Brien told CNN. “This is what corporate helicopter aviation is built on — on this Sikorsky. It’s twin-engine. It’s reliable. It’s safe. It’s capable.” The chopper was traveling at a ground speed of over 180 mph when it crashed, the preliminary report indicated, as evidenced by the way in which it broke apart upon impact.
On Jan. 30, Island Express said it was halting all services “for operational reasons,” per NBC News.
What else do we know about the crash?
An NTSB investigator described the crash as “high energy,” with the chopper, which was at 2,300 feet when the pilot last communicated with air traffic controllers, descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, according to the preliminary report. Debris was strewn across more than 500 feet on the hillside. The helicopter was not equipped with a terrain avoidance warning system or a “black box” of the type typical on airplanes. Neither fact is unusual, but the presence of both might have helped avert the crash or provide information about it. According to Homendy, the helicopter may have missed clearing the hill by 20 to 30 feet. An iPad with ForeFlight, an app pilots use to log flight plans and weather briefings, was on board and recovered by investigators.
Who was the pilot?
Zobayan, 50, was approved to fly in what’s known as special visual flight rules and also was an instructor. Darren Kemp, one of his former students, told the L.A. Times that Bryant “doesn’t let anyone else fly him around but Ara.” He was the chief pilot for Island Express, with more than 8,000 hours of flying time.
What were weather conditions?
When the helicopter took off, the weather was fine. But it grew foggier as the chopper flew north. Compounding matters was the fact that maritime fog can be funneled into canyons. Calabasas residents who witnessed the crash described a thick fog, and visibility was so restricted on the morning of the crash that the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters. Its flight minimums are two miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling. Investigators will study weather patterns, which can quickly change because of uneven terrain in Southern California.
“You have competing things going on at the same time,” Stephen LaDochy, a climatology professor at Cal State L.A., told the Times. “The inversion layer is heavier, drier air sinking down, while the marine layer is pushing up. It is a battle zone between the uplift and the sinking motion of the marine layer.”
Why wasn’t the pilot using instruments?
Zobayan, according to audio recordings, was not relying on instruments, which is not unusual in L.A., where chopper pilots prefer to navigate by following major roads. “Using instruments, you’re at the mercy of controllers, and as busy as Los Angeles airspace is, you’re likely to get routed all over the place,” Brian Beker, a longtime fixed-wing pilot who flew out of Santa Monica, told the Times. “In L.A., it’s a notorious headache.”
The New York Times reported that Zobayan did not have legal authority to use instruments, because Island Express didn’t have the federal certification required for him to do so. “Because of limitations on how the company is approved by the FAA to operate when carrying passengers for hire, he was required to fly only in conditions of sufficient visibility to navigate visually,” the paper wrote.
Nor was the helicopter equipped with the kind of terrain warning system, a safety feature that might have warned the pilot he was too close to the hills. Although the FAA has recommended that helicopters that can carry at least six people be equipped with the system, the NTSB’s Jennifer Homendy said the agency “failed to act.”
Did the pilot make a critical mistake?
Zobayan could have landed at Burbank’s airport, but that would have forced passengers to seek ground transportation the rest of the way. That’s never an easy judgment call to make, especially when you’re carrying a VIP.
“Psychologically, that’s the hardest part,” Kurt Deetz, a former Island Express pilot, told the Times. “Biting the bullet and saying, ‘The weather’s crap, I have to turn back.’ It’s hard to accept the fact you can’t get the job done.” Instead, pilots often continue on and even the most experienced can become disoriented if not relying on instruments when cloud cover thickens and obscures the horizon.
Who was the baseball coach on board?
John Altobelli was a legendary junior college baseball coach at Orange Coast College, where players opened their season as scheduled two days after the crash. Altobelli, a beloved coach, mentored future major leaguers Jeff McNeil and Aaron Judge, among others.
Clippers star used the same pilot
L.A. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, who had grown close to Bryant, often used the same charter service and flew often with Zobayan. He remembered the pilot as a “great guy” who was “super nice” as well as being “one of the best pilots. That is a guy who you ask for to fly you from city to city. It’s just surreal still.” When Leonard moved to the Clippers after leading Toronto to the NBA title last summer, he sought advice from Bryant about how to use a chopper to bypass L.A. traffic.
“[Zobayan] will drop me off and say he is about [to] go pick up Kobe, [and] Kobe said hello. Or he’ll just be like, ‘I just dropped Kobe off, and he said hello.’ Vice versa,” Leonard said. “So it’s a crazy interaction. He’s a good dude, and I’m sorry for everybody.”
What did Kobe Bryant do the morning of the flight?
Bryant was up early and visited Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, where he lived, before the 7 a.m. Mass, the Rev. Steve Sallot told KCBS/KCAL. “We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then he moved on, and obviously, he was going to the airport yesterday morning. We shook hands. I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Sallot said. “So I knew that he’d gone into the chapel to pray and came out and blessed himself. And then we spoke for a minute, shook hands, and then off he went.” Bryant and his family often attended the church, Sallot said.
What has been the NBA’s response?
The league postponed the Lakers’ Jan. 28 game against the Clippers at Staples Center. The team returned to practice the next day and played its regularly scheduled home game Jan. 31 against Portland.
The NBA also announced that it would pay tribute to Bryant and the victims of the crash during its All-Star Game in February, including with a “final target score” that will be the leading team’s cumulative score through three quarters plus 24 points — Bryant’s uniform number.
A Genesis tribute
The Genesis Invitational golf tournament, which takes place in mid-February at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, is paying tribute with a purple and gold sign on the No. 8 tee box and flag. Bryant originally wore the No. 8 in the NBA. “For Kobe,” the tournament’s Twitter account announced.
How will the NBA honor Bryant?
It’s too early for that determination, but fans and players are taking matters into their own hands. A Change.org petition calling for the NBA to alter its logo, which was created in 1969 and features Jerry West, to a silhouette of Bryant, had gotten more than 2.6 million signatures by Jan. 29. Almost three years ago, West said he was fine with the idea of changing it. The Lakers’ general manager when the franchise acquired Bryant, West called Jan. 26 “one of the worst days of my life.”
NBA players were making changes of their own, with several who wore either of Bryant’s numbers — 8 and 24 — asking to switch. Meanwhile, all across L.A., there were vigils and remembrances of Bryant, the largest of which was at L.A. Live, the site of Staples Center.
How will Hollywood honor Bryant?
Bryant, who won an Oscar in 2018 for his animated short film “Dear Basketball, was honored during the annual “In Memorium” segment of the annual film awards ceremony Feb. 9 in Los Angeles. Director Spike Lee, a devoted New York Knicks fan, paid a tribute of his own, wearing a purple and gold suit bearing Bryant’s No. 24.
When will Bryant enter the Hall of Fame?
Bryant will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer in Springfield, Mass. It is “expected to be the most epic class ever, with Kobe, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett,” HOF chairman Jerry Colangelo told the Athletic. “Kobe will be honored the way he should be.” The 2020 class officially will be announced in April.