Baseball Coach, Family Also Killed in Helicopter Crash Carrying Kobe Bryant

January 26, 2020 Updated: January 27, 2020
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A Southern California community college baseball coach, his wife and daughter were among those killed in the crash of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and his daughter.

The younger brother of Orange Coast College coach John Altobelli confirmed the deaths as relatives, friends and players gathered at the school’s baseball field Sunday afternoon. Flowers and baseball caps were placed on home plate.

John Altobelli’s brother, Tony, is the sports information director at the school. He said his 56-year-old brother died along with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who was about 13 and played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter, Gianna.

John Altobelli was entering his 28th season as coach at the community college in Costa Mesa, California. The team won a state championship last year and John Altobelli was named national coach of the year.

The helicopter carrying Bryant crashed northwest of Los Angeles around 10 a.m. Sunday. All nine people aboard were killed.

Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria Onore Bryant had been expected at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a basketball game scheduled for Sunday. Gianna was expected to play in the game and Bryant was expected to coach, according to Lady Mavericks team director Evelyn Morales.

Kobe Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna
Kobe Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna at the WNBA All Star Game at Mandalay Bay Events Center, in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jul 27, 2019. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, California, was also killed in the crash, her husband Matt Mauser, wrote on his Facebook page.

“My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash,” he wrote.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Tony Imbrenda said he didn’t immediately have any 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.

Imbrenda said he didn’t know where the helicopter took off from or where it was headed.

LA county firefighters on the scene of a helicopter crash that reportedly killed Kobe Bryant in Calabasas
LA county firefighters on the scene of a helicopter crash that reportedly killed Kobe Bryant in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

The helicopter was built in 1991, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It was registered to Island Express Holding Corp, according to a FAA registry database.

Calls to Island Express were not answered Sunday. The company is based in Fillmore, according to the California Secretary of State database.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, the FAA said in a tweet. An NTSB team is expected to arrive in Calabasas on Sunday evening, the NTSB said in a tweet.

There was extremely low visibility at the time of the crash and conditions were foggy and cloudy with a drizzle, according to CNN Meteorologist Michael Guy. Pictures taken shortly after the crash showed fog in the area.

A Heralded Career

Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters. His oldest daughter turned 17 a week ago; his youngest daughter is 7 months old.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Connecticut and Houston in Storrs, Conn, on March 2, 2019. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Bryant’s death comes a day after LeBron James passed him as No. 3 on the NBA all-time scoring list when he reached 33,643 points.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother,” Bryant tweeted Saturday night.

Born in Philadelphia, Bryant started playing basketball when he was 3 and went on to become one of the NBA’s greatest champions. He was drafted straight out of Lower Merion High School near Philadelphia in 1996. He was the youngest player in NBA history at that time, at 18 years, 2 months and 11 days.

Bryant played his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers and won five NBA championships. He has two Olympic gold medals for men’s basketball.

Bryant retired in April 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final game. He said his “body knew it was time to say goodbye.”

Mourning Kobe

Tributes poured in after Bryant’s death.

NBA clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has known Bryant for many years, was emotional when discussing his death. “He means a lot to me, obviously. He was such a great opponent. … It’s what you want in sports,” Rivers said.

Rivers said Bryant “had that DNA that very few athletes can ever have. The Tiger Woods and Michael Jordans.”

Former Los Angeles Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has known Bryant since he was a boy, said Bryant was an athlete and leader who inspired generations of young athletes.

“He was one of the first ones to leave high school and come to the NBA and do so well, dominating the game and becoming one of the best scorers that the Los Angeles Lakers has ever seen,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a video posted online.

“Rest in peace, young man,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “This loss, it’s just hard to comprehend.”

Former NBA player Kobe Bryant
Former NBA player Kobe Bryant attends a community screening for the film “Just Mercy” in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 6, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

On the court Sunday, the Atlanta Hawks held a moment of silence as a tribute to Bryant before their game against the Washington Wizards. Following the moment of silence, Hawks guard Trae Young started the game wearing a No. 8 jersey to honor Bryant, then switched back to his No. 11.

On the opening possession, the Hawks took an 8-second backcourt violation and the Wizards followed by taking a 24-second shot clock violation.

Bryant wore both No. 8 and No. 24 in his NBA career.

When he learned of Bryant’s death, retired NBA player Dwyane Wade tweeted: “Nooooooooooo God please No!”

Former NBA player Scottie Pippen tweeted: “I’m stunned. Words can’t even come close to describing it. Just an incredibly sad and tragic day.”

NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal tweeted: “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother…”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Bryant a “giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court—and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved.

“He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”

President Donald Trump tweeted about Bryant’s death, saying, “He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating….”

The Associated Press and The CNN Wire contributed to this report