LOS ANGELES (REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES) - Retired basketball star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, about 65km north-west of Los Angeles, on Sunday (Jan 26) morning, Los Angeles officials confirmed.
Bryant, 41, and his daughter among the passengers travelling onboard the helicopter and including the pilot, all were confirmed deceased with no survivors, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter.
“There were no survivors... There were nine people on board the aircraft, the pilot plus eight individuals,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. An investigation is ongoing.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) later sent a confirmation of Bryant’s and his daughter Gianna’s deaths to all teams and league employees Sunday afternoon, according to two people familiar with the document, the New York Times reported.
According to US media reports, Bryant and Gianna had been flying to a game his daughter was expected to play in when their helicopter crashed.
“This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
First responders put out the flames of the crash site, the sheriff’s department said, posting a picture of a fire truck and smoke emerging from the brush in a ravine.
Bryant was known to use a helicopter for travel dating to his days as a star player for the Los Angeles Lakers, when he commuted to games in a Sikorsky S-76 chopper, the celebrity news website TMZ said.
The US Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.
Bryant won five NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an 18-times NBA All-Star who wore the No. 24 during his 20-year career with the team. His career began in 1996 straight out of high school and lasted until his retirement in 2016.
He also was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, helping spark the US squad of NBA stars to titles in 2008 at Beijing and 2012 at London.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, have four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.
TMZ reported that Bryant’s wife, Vanessa was not among those onboard the helicopter.
The crash came only hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers icon was passed by current Lakers star LeBron James for third on the all-time NBA scoring list in a Saturday game at Philadelphia.
Bryant’s final post on social media had been a tweet congratulating James on surpassing him. “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote. “Much respect my brother #33644”.
Bryant’s star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show business stars in Los Angeles.
In 2018 he won an Oscar for his animated short film Dear Basketball. But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.
Bryant denied the claims and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.
Bryant and his wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage but in 2013 the couple said they had reconciled their differences.
Early reports of Bryant’s death sent shock waves throughout the world, with fellow stars and celebrities expressing disbelief at the news.
“This can’t be true,” Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic wrote on Twitter. “No please.”