Investigators look into whether foggy conditions contributed to Kobe Bryant's helicopter crash

Local and federal authorities are investigating the Southern California helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people -- including 41-year-old NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Credit: LA County Sheriffs
By Christina Maxouris, CNN

    (CNN) -- Millions of people never met him, but the sudden death of Kobe Bryant and eight others has left a country in mourning.

The 41-year-old NBA legend died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in foggy conditions in Calabasas, California. Visibility was so low Sunday morning that Los Angeles police had grounded its helicopters, spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

The helicopter crashed into a hillside, killing everyone on board. But the official cause of the crash has not been determined.

As fans around the world grapple with Bryant's death, investigators are struggling to find clues in difficult conditions.

"It's a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

The effort to recover the victims' bodies hasstarted but could take a couple of days, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said, "given the terrain and the condition of the site."

"We're doing everything we can to confirm identifications and give closure to the families involved."

Bryant was traveling to a basketball game with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was scheduled to play Sunday afternoon.

With them was Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and his daughter, Alyssa, Altobelli's brother told CNN. Alyssa was Gianna's teammate, OCC assistant coach Ron La Ruffa said.

Altobelli would routinely travel with his daughter for games, La Ruffa said.

"We have lost a member of our OCC family, and our hearts are broken," OCC President Angelica Suarez said in a statement. "Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus - a beloved teacher, coach, colleague and friend. This is a tremendous loss for our campus community."

The victims also included Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach for a private school in Corona del Mar, California.

"My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash," her husband Matt Mauser wrote on Facebook.

The sheriff's office is working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to determine the cause of the crash.

Foggy conditions morning of crash

The crash occurred under foggy and cloudy conditions with extremely low visibility, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.

Pictures taken shortly after the crash showed fog in the area.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Tony Imbrenda said he didn't immediately have information about whether the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter radioed a distress signal.

"Individuals that saw the aircraft said it was coming down at a fairly significant rate of speed and impacted the ground on the hillside," he told reporters.

Sikorsky, the helicopter manufacturer, expressed condolences in a tweet Sunday.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today's Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California," the tweet read. "We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer. Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers."

The aircraft was built in 1991, according to the FAA and registered to Island Express Holding Corp.

Calls to Island Express were not answered Sunday.

A nation in shock and mourning

Meanwhile, heartbroken fans have been pouring into the areas surrounding the site, sending condolences on social media and paying tribute to Bryant, who first made history when he became the youngest player in NBA history.

In Sunday's news conference, Villanueva said officers had to be deployed to keep crowds away from the residential community near the crash site and "we have to reiterate it is off-limits to everybody."

Born in Philadelphia, Bryant quickly grew to become one of basketball's greatest champions. He played his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers and won five NBA championships, before retiring in April 2016 after scoring 60 points inhis final game.

Former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called the player a "chosen one -- special in many ways to many people."

"Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil," Jackson said.

Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters -- the youngest of which was born in June.

™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Share this article:
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?