What we know about the victims in Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash
CALABASAS, Calif. - As those on and off the court mourned the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant following a devastating helicopter crash Sunday outside of Los Angeles, loved ones quietly grieved for the other victims on board.
Bryant, the 41-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star, was killed when a helicopter plunged into a hillside at about 9:45 a.m. in Calabasas, located about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Eight others were also killed, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
The helicopter was headed to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament. The impact of the crash scattered debris over an area the size of a football field.
Gianna Bryant, better known as “Gigi,” had developed a passion for basketball and wanted to keep her dad’s basketball legacy alive, according to FOX 11 Los Angeles.
John Altobelli, the 56-year-old longtime head coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team in Costa Mesa, also died in the crash. He was known to many as “Coach Alto.”
Kobe Bryant and John Altobelli are pictured in an undated photo. (Photo credit: Provided / Family via FOX 11 Los Angeles)
"It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli. He was a coach, a colleague, a mentor and a friend at OCC for 27 years," a statement from the college read.
Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were also on the helicopter and killed, according to Altobelli's brother, Tony, who is the sports information director at the school. Alyssa and Bryant’s daughter played on the same basketball team at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy.
John Altobelli and Alyssa are pictured in an undated photo. (Photo credit: Provided / Family via FOX 11 Los Angeles)
Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school, was killed, according to Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley. Her husband, Matt Mauser, founded the Tijuana Dogs, a popular Orange County band.
In a Facebook post he said: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”
The Tijuana Dogs’ Facebook page also shared a post about Christina Mauser’s death, calling her “a driving force” behind the band and stating that she could be credited with much of their success.
The pilot of the helicopter was identified as Ara Zobayan, chief pilot for Island Express Helicopters, which owned the aircraft.
“Ara has been with the company for over 10 years and has over 8,000 flight hours," the company said in a statement.
Peter and Claudia Lowry, owners of Group 3 Aviation in Los Angeles, said he previously worked there.
In a Facebook post, the couple said Zobayan came to their company in 1998 to learn to fly after taking a sightseeing flight at the Grand Canyon and deciding he wanted to become a pilot.
“Ara worked hard in other businesses to save enough money to pay for training,” they said. “Flying was his life’s passion.”
Also among the victims of Sunday's crash were Payton Chester, another 13-year-old member of the basketball team, and her mother Sarah, the Associated Press reported.
Todd Schmidt, a family friend and principal at Harbor View Elementary School in Newport Beach, where previously Payton attended as a student, wrote a tribute to the mother and daughter on Facebook.
“As folks mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant, I want to take a moment to remember two gorgeous human beings who were with him, Sarah and Payton Chester,” Schmidt wrote.
“As a principal, we work with some amazing families...the Chesters were one of those...engaged, supportive, encouraging, and full of mischief and laughter...and they had the best kiddos! This family made such a huge impact at Harbor View...they were genuine, kind-hearted, and caring...to the staff, to other families...and yes, especially to me.”
He continued: “While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important...their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken. You were both the embodiment of #hvepride, and the world is just a little less without you both in it. May you both Rest In Peace and know the deep impact you had on our lives. You will be so sorely missed.”
St. Margaret's Episcopal School, where Payton was enrolled in eighth grade, also shared a statement about the family's death.
“We are a community in deep mourning over (this) unimaginable loss,” the school said in a statement. “On behalf of our entire St. Margaret’s community, we send our love and prayers to surround the entire Chester family in this devastating time of loss.”
Officials said the helicopter was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department, grounded their choppers.
Bryant was a longtime Newport Beach resident and commonly commuted by helicopter to navigate Los Angeles traffic, he said in a FOX Sports interview.
Authorities recovered the remains of three people, and they were taken to the coroner's office for examination and formal identification, according to FOX 11 Los Angeles. None of the victims have been formally identified by the coroner's office.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.