A year later: Remembering Kobe Bryant, eight others killed in helicopter crash


Gianna and Kobe Bryant (left top), Payton and Sarah Chester (right top) Christina Mauser, Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Ara Zabayan (left to right bottom) are seen in this collage of the Jan. 26, 2020 victims.

(ABC4) – January 26, 2021, marks one year since NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people were killed in a fiery helicopter crash in Southern California.

His sudden death at the age of 41 resulted in an outpouring of grief for the star, who left behind a wife and three other daughters.

The helicopter, carrying eight people and a pilot, was traveling to a basketball game. Flight records show there were poor weather conditions that caused low visibility. The helicopter, flying about 2,000 feet above sea level descended and crashed into a Calabasas hillside.

Investigators later determined the pilot, Ara Zoboyan, tried to climb to avoid a cloud layer before plunging into the hillside. Weeks after the crash, investigators determined all nine victims died on impact.

Photos show the extent of the debris and damages.

Following the crash, NBA players were in tears during pregame warm-ups as crowds chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” A visibly shaken LeBron James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked away alone from the Lakers plane that had just landed in Southern California.

Thousands of people gathered to mourn Bryant outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mourners in No. 24 jerseys mixed with those in fancy dress arriving at the downtown arena for Sunday evening’s Grammy Awards.

Following the tragic accident, the victims were remembered across the nation.

The Grammys, which were held hours after the crash, kicked off with a performance in honor of Kobe.

Dozens of celebrities, brands, and officials took to social media to remember the legend, including Shaquille O’Neal, Nike, Dwyane Wade. Even Utah Jazz fans mourned the loss, creating a memorial with flowers, candles, and memorabilia outside Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Days after the crash, Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, posted a family photo on her Instagram and thanked those who have “shown support and love during this horrific time.”

The post read, in part:

My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.

We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.

Thank you so much for lifting us up in your prayers, and for loving Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka, Capri and me. #Mamba #Mambacita #GirlsDad #DaddysGirls #Family 

Read the rest of that post here.

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until the day before the crash when the Lakers’ James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.

Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

After leaving the game, Bryant had more time to play coach to daughter Gianna, who had a budding basketball career of her own and, her father said, wanted to one day play in the WNBA. They were seen sitting courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game in 2019, Bryant clearly passing along his wisdom to his daughter. He regularly showcased her talents on the court on social media.

Dads across the nation honored Kobe with #girldad, sharing photos of themselves with their daughters. The hashtag came to life Monday night as ESPN’s Elle Duncan talked about how proud he was as a father to four daughters. After that, the hashtag took off on social media, with feeds being flooded with photos of dads and their girls from across the world.

Tributes continued outside “The House that Kobe Built,” Los Angeles’ Staples Center. In early February, the massive memorial was cleared, with some items going to Bryant’s widow and other family members.

Condolences were also pouring in for the other victims -Gianna; John and Keri Altobelli, and their daughter, Alyssa; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zoboyan.

Days later, at Super Bowl LIV, the mourning continued. Fans wore Byant’s No. 24 jerseys, others wore Lakers jerseys, players lined up for a moment of silence on the 24-yard lines.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join in a moment of silence as the 49ers, Chiefs, and National Football League extend our deepest condolences to the friends and families of those lost this past week. … They will never be forgotten,” was the message that blared through Hard Rock Stadium.

The crash sparked nationwide conversations about crash-warning systems being installed in more helicopters, with supporters saying the technology may have prevented the deaths.

A California lawmaker, Rep. Brad Sherman, proposed a bill that would require added safety system on commercial helicopters in the days after the crash.

Others began wondering why Zoboyan, an experienced pilot who had spent countless hours ferrying passengers through the Los Angeles skies, took to the skies despite the foggy-weather.

Jerry Kidrick, a retired Army colonel who flew helicopters in Iraq and now teaches at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said there can be pressure to fly VIPs despite poor conditions, a situation he experienced when flying military brass in bad weather.

“The perceived pressure is, ‘Man, if I don’t go, they’re going to find somebody who will fly this thing,’” Kidrick said.

Investigators determined the helicopter had nearly cleared the blinding clouds and would have broken through into clear air in a matter of seconds. They add that Zobayan may have been disoriented in the fog as well.

Vanessa Bryant sued the owner of the helicopter, filing a wrongful death lawsuit that said Zoboyan was careless and negligent by flying in cloud conditions and should have aborted the flight. The family members of four passengers killed joined the wrongful death filing.

According to TMZ, the lawsuit alleges the helicopter company – Island Express – was only allowed to fly under visual flight rules and that the conditions the day of the crash were not suitable for such flying.

Authorities later investigated whether deputies shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene, according to a newspaper report. Vanessa later commented that she was “absolutely devastated” by the allegations.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff later released that eight deputies allegedly took and shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene.

Vanessa recently denounced a lawsuit from her mother, claiming she is owed years of paying for working as an unpaid assistant and support promised by her husband, Kobe.

The crash’s cause is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said last week it would hold a hearing on Feb. 9 to determine the probable cause of the Jan. 2020 crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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