UPDATED, Tuesday PM with bodies recovered: Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said Tuesday that all nine bodies from the Sunday helicopter crash in Calabasas that killed Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna and seven others have been recovered.
Officials said investigators are “actively working on identifying the decedents. Additionally, body examinations are in progress.” During a press conference Sunday, Los Angeles Country Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters that DNA samples will likely be needed to identify those who died.
The coroner’s office said three bodies were recovered Sunday by personnel from the department’s Special Operations Response Team after the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, which had departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 AM, crashed into a hillside in foggy conditions just before 10 AM PT near the 4200 block of Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas.
The remaining six bodies were located after a search and transported to the unit’s forensic science center, the department said Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are taking the lead on the investigation of the crash. Officials said the impact was “devastating,” with the debris field spanning 500-600 feet. The NTSB said the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was attempting to avoid a cloud layer when he began a rapid descent.
Bryant, 41, was taking a group to his Mamba basketball academy in Thousand Oaks where Gianna, 13, and her team that Bryant coached had a game.
The other victims had been previously identified as John Altobelli, 56, his wife, Keri, 46, and their daughter, Alyssa, 13; assistant coach Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45, and her daughter, Payton, 13; and Zobayan, 50.
UPDATED January 26, 8:18 PM PT with latest news conference: Los Angeles County officials held a series of briefings today on the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others. Bryant was 41.
The helicopter crashed into a hillside above Calabasas in foggy conditions just before 10 a.m. PT.
L.A. County Fire Dept. Chief Daryl L. Osby said this afternoon that the fire department received a 911 call reporting the crash and subsequent brush fire at 9:47 a.m. A total of 56 personnel, including paramedics and firefighters, responded to the crash site.
“There was a debris field in steep terrain,” Osby explained. “Our firefighters hiked in to extinguish the fire.”
Initial reports said up to five people had died, but L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters that nine people were on board the aircraft, including the pilot. There were no survivors. Villanueva noted that DNA samples will likely be needed to identify those who died.
Authorities did not release the names of the people on the helicopter. However, multiple media outlets confirmed that Bryant and his daughter were among the victims.
Hours later, Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa confirmed that baseball coach John Altobelli was among the victims.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli,” the school said in a statement. “He was a coach, a colleague, a mentor and a friend at OCC for 27 years.”
The coach’s brother Tony Altobelli, who is the sports director at OCC, told CNN that Altobelli’s wife Keri Altobelli and daughter Alyssa, a 13-year-old basketball player at Bryant’s Mamba Academy, also died in the crash.
Just after 8 p.m. tonight, officials held another media briefing and said they were having difficulty recovering the bodies.
“Given the terrain and the condition of the site, we expect that it will take us at least a couple of days for the recovery,” stated Dr. Jonathan Lucas, chief medical examiner for L.A. County.
“Our next priority is identification and notification of the families, all of which we will do as soon as we can,” Lucas added, before promising that the recovery effort would be quick, thorough and compassionate.
Coroner’s officials said a team of experts has been brought in to recover the bodies and a massive refrigerated vehicle is standing by to transport the remains.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will take the lead on the investigation. The helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76B, said FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer. The aircraft departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m., records show.
The helicopter company released the following statement: “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.”
A team from the NTSB was expected to arrive in California this evening.
City News Service contributed to this report.