Medical examiners identified the body of NBA legend Kobe Bryant after recovering the remains of all nine people who died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles, officials said Tuesday.
Bryant’s body was officially identified along with three others using fingerprints, two days after their helicopter crashed into a rugged hillside northwest of the city.
Meanwhile federal investigators finished their inspection of the crash site, handing it over to local authorities.
“We are done on the site,” said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Images showed investigators earlier flying drones over the accident site and manually combing through twisted, charred wreckage of the helicopter, which was scattered over a wide area of 600 feet (180 meters).
Officials also used drones to replicate the helicopter’s final, fateful flight path, Homendy said.
Earlier Tuesday, the coroner’s office confirmed all nine bodies have been retrieved from the site and “transported to the department’s forensic science center” for examination.
The bodies of pilot Ara Zobayan, baseball coach John Altobelli and Sarah Chester have also been identified.
The remaining five – including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna – have not yet been officially identified.
The death of Bryant – a five-time NBA champion for the LA Lakers and double Olympic gold medalist – has shocked the world, with tributes continuing to pour in Tuesday.
– ‘Pretty devastating’ -Bryant, 41, was traveling with daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of LA.
The helicopter was headed to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where his daughter was set to play.
Homendy described the accident as a “high energy impact crash,” having earlier labelled the crash scene as “pretty devastating.”
Homendy said the helicopter did not have a “terrain awareness and warning system” installed. The NTSB in 2004 had recommended to federal aviation authorities that the system be required on all helicopters with six or more passenger seats, but the recommendation was not adopted, she added.
Investigators have now airlifted the helicopter’s wreckage onto trucks, which then transported it to a secure location for further examination.
An iPad, cellphone and maintenance records were found among the wreckage, along with “everything we would expect would be on the aircraft,” said Homendy.
She told journalists that the probable cause for the accident may not be confirmed for 12-18 months, when a final report will be issued.
A preliminary, fact-based report is expected in 10 days.
‘Heartbroken and devastated’ -The other passengers on the flight – who have not yet been officially identified have been named as Altobelli’s wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, who played basketball at the same club as Gianna.
Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of the Mamba girls’ basketball team, was also killed along with Payton Chester, Sarah’s daughter.
Mourning fans Tuesday placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the gated community in Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, where the late NBA great lived.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said a tribute to Bryant would be included in next month’s Oscars ceremony telecast.
The star, who won an Academy Award in 2018 for animated short film “Dear Basketball,” had been honored with a moment’s silence at the Oscars nominees luncheon on Monday.
A petition for the NBA logo to be redesigned with Bryant’s likeness had reached two million signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
The NBA postponed Tuesday’s Lakers game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Basketball superstar LeBron James said he was “heartbroken and devastated” over Bryant’s death in an emotional Instagram post, while also vowing to continue his friend’s championship legacy with the Lakers.
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic donned a jersey bearing Bryant’s initials and shirt numbers at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.
With the crash site becoming a pilgrimage point for fans, police on horseback and all-terrain vehicles have been brought in to secure the area.
Feds probe helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant
Friends, colleagues and fans mourned Kobe Bryant on Monday as federal investigators sifted through the wreckage of the helicopter crash that killed the basketball legend and eight other people, hoping to find clues to what caused the accident that stunned the world.
Bryant, 41, was traveling Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a rugged hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of LA. There were no survivors.
A five-time NBA champion for his only team, the LA Lakers, and a double Olympic gold medalist, Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history.
He was traveling on his private helicopter from Orange County, where he lived, to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks where his daughter was set to play.
Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a press conference that investigators would remain at the site of the crash throughout the week to collect evidence.
“It was a pretty devastating accident scene,” she said, adding that the wreckage was strewn across about 600 feet (180 meters).
“We will be here about five days on scene to collect perishable evidence,” she said. “We are not here to determine the cause of the accident. We will not determine that on scene.”
Homendy said the aircraft did not have a black box, which was not required on that type of helicopter.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters it would “take a while” to recover the remains of the victims because of the force of the crash and the rugged terrain.
He added that given the number of people trying to access the site unlawfully, his agency has had to resort to police on horseback or all terrain vehicles to secure the area.
Philippe Lesourd, a helicopter pilot and instructor who has been flying in California for 29 years, told AFP the heavy fog likely caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.
He said the pilot most probably suffered “spatial disorientation” after losing sight of the ground upon entering the clouds.
The fog was heavy enough on Sunday that the Los Angeles Police Department and the sheriff’s office grounded their helicopters for part of the day.
Witnesses told local media the helicopter appeared to be flying very low and seemed to struggle before it slammed into a hillside.
– ‘LA feels empty’ -Apart from Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the other passengers on the flight included baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa, who played basketball at the same club as Gianna.
Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of the Mamba girls’ basketball team, was also killed along with Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter.
News of the crash reverberated across the globe and hundreds gathered at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, where Bryant wowed fans for 20 years, placing flowers, candles and messages for their fallen hero.
“It’s unbelievable that he is gone,” said Esmeralda Cisneros. “Everyone feels empty. California and LA feel empty without him.”
Tributes have also flooded in from former US presidents, pop stars and athletes from different sports, a sign of how the man known as the “Black Mamba” had transcended basketball.
The NBA said it had postponed Tuesday’s Lakers game against the Los Angeles Clippers following the tragedy.
Monday evening, NBA superstar LeBron James said he was “heartbroken and devastated” over Bryant’s death in an emotional Instagram post, while also vowing to continue his friend’s championship legacy with the Lakers.
“Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had!” James wrote.
“I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man!” he said.
“Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here!”