NBA great Kobe Bryant and his daughter among 9 killed in California helicopter crash

Former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California, authorities say.

Everyone aboard died when the helicopter crashed into a hillside near Malibu in Los Angeles County at 10 a.m., USA Today reported. Firefighters extinguished a fire that burned about one acre after the crash.

“It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Kobe Bryant and four others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. The aircraft went down in a remote field off Las Virgenes around 10:00 this morning. Nobody on the ground was hurt,” the city of Calabasas said in a statement.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles later put the death toll from the crash at nine, CNN reported.

Among the dead was Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, the Los Angeles Times reported on Twitter. Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters. Other sources reported Kobe and Gianna Bryant were on their way to Gianna’s basketball game in Thousand Oaks, California.

Witness Jerry Kocharian says he heard a helicopter struggling overhead “falling and spluttering,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Then it vanished in a cloud of fog, followed by a boom.

“There was a big fireball,” Kocharian said, according to the publication. “No one could survive that.”

Bryant owned a personal helicopter to avoid Los Angeles traffic, Business Insider reported.

It’s not known what caused the Sikorsky S-76 to crash, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer, the Associated Press reported.

Bryant, 41, retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. His final posts to Twitter and Instagram on Saturday praised LeBron James for surpassing him on the list of all-time NBA scorers earlier in the day.

Bryant was drafted out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets in June 1996 at the age of 17. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers less than a month later.

In his 20-year career with the Lakers, the 6’ 6” shooting guard won five NBA championships and was third in all-time scoring in the NBA when he retired in 2016.

LeBron James passed him for third place on Saturday at a game in Philadelphia.

Bryant was also the league MVP in 2008, NBA scoring champion twice, NBA all-star 18 times, and was named 12 times to the NBA’s all-defensive teams.

In his final NBA game against the Utah Jazz, Bryant scored 60 points to secure a 5-point win for the Lakers, according to Basketball Reference.

Two of Bryant’s jerseys, No. 8 and No. 24, were retired by the Lakers in 2017, according to the NBA. He’s the first player in history to have two jerseys retired by the same team.

He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Bryant married Vanessa Laine in 2001 and had four daughters, CNN reported. The couple’s youngest daughter, Capri, was born in June.

In 2018, Bryant won an Academy Award for the animated film “Dear Basketball” based on a poem he wrote that was published in the Players Tribune in 2015, USA Today reported.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.