Kobe Bryant, NBA legend, killed along with daughter in California helicopter crash

David Millward
Kobe Bryant, NBA legend, killed along with daughter in California helicopter crash
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna  - AP

Kobe Bryant, one of the most illustrious players in the history of basketball, has died in a helicopter crash in California. Bryant, 41, was one of nine people on the helicopter when it plummeted to the ground in Calabasas, 30 miles west of Los Angeles, and burst into flames.

Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna was among those who died. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among those killed, and sent condolences to Bryant's wife, Vanessa.

"He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary," Silver said, as tributes poured in from players, politicians and entertainers.

The crash took place at 10 am local time. Attempts to pull people out of the wreckage were hampered by the brush fire which broke out following the crash.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna  Credit: AP

Bryant was a regular helicopter user, often using his Sikorsky S-76 to travel from Newport Beach, California to the Staples Centre in Los Angeles where he played for the LA Lakers.

According to local witnesses visibility was poor with the hills above Calabasas enveloped in fog. It was unclear whether the heavy cloud cover, about 1,000 feet or so above the ground, played a role in the crash.

Regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, he enjoyed a 20-year career with the Lakers, making the all-star NBA team 18 times.

Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant Credit: Getty

Bryant, a father of four,  was also an Olympic Gold Medal winner. 

Trump leads tributes to 'basketball great'

US president Donald Trump tweeted: “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news!”.

He later added:

Former president Barack Obama tweeted:  "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day."

Eric Garcetti. Los Angeles Mayor, wrote: “Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court – and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius and ambassador for the game he loved.”

Basketball legend Michael Jordan added: "I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words cannot describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe - he was like a little brother to me," he tweeted.

"He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force."

Another basketball legend, Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted there was no words to express the pain he was going through.

Khloe Kardashian was among the first to react on social media.

“This can’t be real. there’s no way!!! My heart hurts", she tweeted.

Gigi Hadid, the model, wrote: “Shocked and heartbroken. Way too soon. Rest In Peace & Power, Legend- being a fan of yours brought so much joy to my life. Sending my love, strength, and deepest condolences to the sweet Bryant family."

Other tributes came from the Spanish football giants, Barcelona, a team which Bryant followed.

Tom Brady, the New England quarterback and American football legend, tweeted: “We miss you already Kobe.”

Bryant , who was nicknamed “The Black Mamba”, was the fourth-highest points scorer in the history of the sport, having just been overtaken over the weekend by LeBron James.  

A matter of hours before his death Bryant hailed LeBron James’s achievement with what was his final posting on Twitter. 

He won five NBA championships and was named as the league’s most valuable player in 2008.

His final game in a 20-year career took place at the Staples Centre in April 2016. Fittingly, to the delight of a packed crowd – which included David Beckham, Jay Z and Jack Nicholson – Bryant produced a stunning performance, scoring 60 points for the sixth time.

It was just one of a number of spectacular performances by Bryant whom in 2006, scored 81 points in a match against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant was due to be inducted into the sport’s hall of fame next month.

NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash Credit: Getty

Bryant had four daughters with his wife, Vanessa. The Bryants' first daughter, Natalia, turned 17 a week ago. Bianka Bella Bryant is three years old, and Capri Kobe Bryant was born last June.

Bryant dedicated himself to boosting women's sports in his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players. Gianna, better known as Gigi, was a talented basketball player.

'We heard some sputtering, and then a boom'

The fire and debris field from the crash spread over a quarter-acre of steep terrain in the grass-covered foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.

Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and coroner staff recover the bodies from the scene of a helicopter crash in Calabasas  Credit: AFP

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will carry out an investigation into the crash.

They will examine the wreckage of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. "Our team will be looking at the history of the pilot and whatever crew was on board," said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy.

"We will be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter. We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter."

Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard "what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter."

"It was very foggy so we couldn't see anything," he said. "But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom."

A short time later the fog cleared a bit and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.

Members of LA County Fire and LA County corners begin the task of removing bodies from the hillside  Credit: USA Today

Among the others on board, in addition to the pilot, were a teammate from Bryant's daughter's basketball squad and a parent of the teammate, NBC News reported.

Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was also one of the victims, the Orange County Register reported, citing assistant coach Ron La Ruffa.

News of Bryant's death was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where Bryant was unquestionably the most popular athlete and one of the city's most beloved public figures.

Life long Kobe Bryant fans Amanda and Philip Gordon of the San Fernando Valley, embrace at the at the scene near the hillside where the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant crashed in Calabasas Credit: USA Today

The Lakers' next game isn't until Tuesday night against the crosstown rival Clippers, but hundreds of fans - many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear - spontaneously gathered at Staples Centre and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant's image.

Some in the crowd dabbed tears as others laid flowers and basketball sneakers at the wreath.

The NBA kept its games on as scheduled when the news broke, but the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honor of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career.

Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to "Dear Basketball," an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.

Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a woman who worked at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm surrounding the case. Bryant denied the allegations, and charges eventually were dismissed after his accuser refused to testify.

Bryant and his wife filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage, but the couple said in 2013 they had reconciled.