scorecardresearch Skip to main content

How the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant unfolded

Firefighters worked at the scene of a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, Calif. Authorities said nine people died.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 41, who led the team to five NBA championships in his 20-year career with the franchise, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed Sunday morning when the helicopter they were in crashed amid foggy conditions and burst into flames in the hilly terrain of Calabasas, Calif.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Sunday that one pilot and eight passengers were on board, all of whom were killed in the crash.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B, took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m., according to data of the flight on FlightRadar24, and crashed shortly before 10 a.m. in the hills over Calabasas, a suburb about 30 miles northwest of downtown LA.


The helicopter appeared to fly near Dodger Stadium and circle multiple times over Glendale near the Los Angeles Zoo, before crashing into a steep hillside, scattering debris, and igniting a fire that spread through about a quarter of an acre of dry brush.

Authorities received a 911 call at 9:47 a.m., LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said in a news conference. Firefighters hiked to the fire, which Osby described as “stubborn” due to the presence of magnesium.

Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the LA police department, told the Los Angeles Times that the department had grounded its helicopters in the morning due to the fog and did not fly until later in the afternoon.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” he told the Times. The fog “was enough that we were not flying.”

The Sheriff’s Department also did not have helicopters in the air in the morning, “basically because of the weather,” Villanueva said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. An NTSB “go team” of 18 people, including investigators, family assistance, and media relations staffers, arrived at the site Sunday night, Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB board member said Sunday.


The pilot, who was identified as Ala Zobayan, had asked for and received special permission to fly in heavy fog, Homendy said on Monday as NTSB investigators collected evidence from the scene.

Minutes before crashing, Zobayan had asked for air traffic controllers to provide “flight following” aide but was told the helicopter was too low, she said.

“When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply."

Recovery efforts at the crash site began Sunday afternoon, LA County chief medical examiner Jonathan Lucas said, but could take “at least a couple, if not a few days" to complete due to the remote location of the crash.

John Altobelli, the father of a Red Sox scout and the former head coach of a Cape Cod Baseball League team, his wife, Keri, and his daughter, Alyssa, were also killed in the crash.

Other victims of the crash included Christina Mauser, a Mamba Academy girls’ basketball team assistant, Payton Chester, a 13-year-old teammate of Gianna and Alyssa’s, and her mother, Sarah, as well as Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter.

The group was on its way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant was expected to coach his daughter’s basketball team in a tournament.


As news spread of the crash, mourners gathered outside the Staples Center, celebrities paid tribute to him on stage at the Grammys, and notable figures from Presidents Obama and Trump to Tom Brady and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expressed their condolences.

Rob DeCola of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Amanda Kaufman can be reached at Follow her @amandakauf1.