CALABASAS, Calif. — Multiple federal agencies will join California officials in trying to determine why a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his oldest daughter and seven other people slammed into a hillside near Malibu, killing everyone aboard.
During an afternoon press conference, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced that nine people were on the helicopter following initial reports of five people.
A crowd of about 200 gathered about a mile from the crash site, where smoking ruins were visible on the brushy hillside. Conversation drowned out by the din of news choppers above.
Curtis Haywood had brought a team of eighth-grade girls from Dallas for a tournament at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks. The news came as they were in the gym.
“Everyone in there was in tears,” said Haywood, a former professional basketball player who once signed with the Toronto Raptors. “Everyone went to their court and had a moment of silence.”
Low clouds and fog were present in the area at the time of the crash, according to the Weather Channel. It was not immediately clear whether the weather played a role in the crash.
Officials identified the helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76. It burst into flames when it hit, and firefighters doused a quarter-acre brush fire. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said they would investigate.
Rebeca Salcedo, 29, and her cousins were in Calabasas for a birthday breakfast when they saw a helicopter that seemed to be flying low. They soon heard sirens and hoped everyone would be OK, she said.
They continued brunch but then saw news reports on their phones that Bryant was on board and had died.
“We all just started crying,” she said. “He’s just a great basketball player, you know. We grew up with him.”
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Sikorsky is a Lockheed Martin company. On the Sikorsky website, the S-76 is described as “well-known for its work in VIP transportation and utility work” and for its dependability.
More than 178 customers operate S-76 helicopters in a corporate or VIP role, Sikorksy says, adding that 10 countries “rely on the S-76 for the Head of State mission.” The helicopters have more than 7.4 million hours of safe, successful flight, the website says.
“We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California,” the company said in a statement. “We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.”
The helicopter crashed in Calabasas, a city of about 25,000 people in the Santa Monica Mountains about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Calabasas Mayor Alicia Weintraub said the morning was less about her city and all about Bryant’s contributions.
“We been monitoring the crash all morning,“ she said while standing with the crowd.
Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years and won five NBA championships.
“I am just in shock,” said Gary Stearns, a Calabasas resident as he walked briskly up Las Virgenes Road to try to get a view of the crash site. “I think about all the terrific things he has done. I couldn’t sit in the house and just watch the news.”
He said his son used to play at the Mamba Sports Academy facility in Thousand Oaks, one of the premier sports complexes in the area, that Bryant had built.
“He’s like an icon,” Stearns said. “An absolute icon.”