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NBA legend Kobe Bryant dead in LA-area helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant hugs his daughter Gianna during a Los Angeles Lakers game on Nov. 17, 2019. (Allen Berezovsky / Getty Images file)

Kobe Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his 13-year-old daughter died Sunday in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles area. Seven other people were also killed, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

David Shapiro, a City Council member and former mayor of Calabasas, where the crash occurred, confirmed to NBC News that Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna were on the helicopter.

Other victims included John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California; his wife, Keri; and their daughter Alyssa. The college, in confirming the deaths, said in a statement that Altobelli had coached there for 27 years.

Payton Chester, a 13-year-old basketball player, and her mother Sarah were also on board. Calling the crash a “freak accident,” Payton’s grandmother Catherine George told NBC News that “they had to get on the helicopter as a convenience today, they usually drove by car.”

Christina Mauser, a coach, was also killed, according to her husband Matt Mauser, who posted the news on Facebook.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said a manifest for the helicopter listed nine people — eight passengers and a pilot. He said all nine people died in the crash.

A call for a downed helicopter and brush fire in Calabasas went out at 9:47 a.m., Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said. Osby said the fire, which covered a quarter-acre, was difficult to extinguish because it included magnesium, a chemical that reacts with oxygen and water.

The recovery effort will probably take several days to complete given the terrain and condition of site, Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said at a press conference on Sunday.

“It’s a logistical nightmare in a sense, because the crash site itself is not easily accessible,” Villanueva said on Sunday at the press conference.

The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed it was sending a team to investigate the crash of the Sikorsky S-76B. Officials are looking closely at whether dense fog may have been a contributing factor, aviation sources told NBC News.

The fog in Los Angeles was so dense on Sunday morning that the Los Angeles Police Department grounded its helicopters until the afternoon, LAPD spokesman Joshua Rubenstein said.

The department requires 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, he said.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Rubenstein told the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles police alerted fans who wished to mourn at the Lakers’ arena that they would be unable to reach the Staples Center as the Grammy Awards were being held there Sunday evening.

NBC Los Angeles reported that Bryant, who lived south of Los Angeles in Orange County, often used helicopters to avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic. As a player, he traveled to practices and games by helicopter — a practice he continued after retirement.

On Saturday night, Bryant tweeted his congratulations to LeBron James after James surpassed him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Bryant was one of the most influential basketball players of the late 1990s and the early 21st century, racking up astronomical scoring totals while playing elite defense over a 20-season career that ended in 2016.

He was the son of the longtime professional basketball player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the San Diego Clippers and the Houston Rockets. Joe Bryant also had a long career playing in Italy.

Bryant attended Lower Merion High School just outside Philadelphia and was drafted directly into the league. He took R&B superstar Brandy Norwood to his 1996 prom.

He was named Most Valuable Player in four of the 15 All-Star Games he played in. He was the NBA’s MVP in 2008 and was twice MVP of the NBA Finals.

Bryant was accused in 2003 of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado, where he was staying for surgery. He admitted to having had sex with the woman but insisted that it had been consensual.

Bryant was charged with rape, but the case was dropped after the accuser declined to help prosecutors. She sued Bryant, and they settled out of court.

NBA athletes, officials and fans mourned the loss of Bryant, who was considered one of the greatest players of all time.

“May your memory be a blessing,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted.

Retired forward Paul Pierce expressed his disbelief on Twitter, saying, “This is not real right now.”

Bryant’s former teammate and friend Shaquille O’Neal said he was sick over the news and sent condolences to all of the victims’ families.

“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant,” he said in a tweet. “I love u and u will be missed.”

President Donald Trump tweeted that the crash was “terrible news.” Former President Barack Obama expressed his condolences to Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, and their family.

“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” Obama said on behalf of himself and his wife, Michelle. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver remarked on Bryant’s 20-year career and legacy in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday, noting his achievements on the court.

“But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability,” Silver said.

Doha Madani / NBC News

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