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The grim, delicate task of removing remains from the Kobe Bryant crash site; 3 bodies removed so far

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Officials remove a body from the wreckage in Calabasas on Sunday where Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine dead in a helicopter crash.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

On the remote Calabasas hillside where Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and other emergency personnel spent Monday morning with the delicate task of removing the remains of victims.

The rough terrain around the crash site off Las Virgenes Canyon Road has been a challenge for first responders from the beginning. On Monday, deputies could be seen on the hillside in off-road vehicles. The remains of three bodies were removed Sunday night, and officials said that process could continue for several days.

Los Angeles County Coroner Jonathan Lucas said the remains will be removed as quickly as possible, noting the location of the crash had made access an issue.

On Monday morning, the coroner’s special response team could be seen on a ridge above the crash site. A white truck was nestled on a narrow ridge line typically used by hikers. The debris from the crash covered a football field-sized area.

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Those on board the copter included Bryant, who was scheduled to coach a girls basketball game that afternoon; parents and players from the club team. Among them: His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the pilot of the helicopter.

Kobe Bryant, the NBA MVP who had a 20-year career with the Lakers, was killed Sunday when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed and burst into flames in the hills above Calabasas. His daughter Gianna, 13, was also on board and died along with seven others.

Seven of the victims have been identified publicly. Two others, Orange County mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester, were identified by friends and family.

John Altobelli and his wife, Keri, were on board the helicopter with their daughter Alyssa, who played on the same club team as Gianna Bryant.

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Altobelli was the longest-tenured baseball coach in Orange Coast College history. He guided the Pirates to four California state community college championships and more than 700 victories in his 27 years at the school.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. The FBI is also assisting in the probe, which is standard practice. The NTSB database does not show any prior incidents or accidents for the aircraft. The helicopter was registered to the Fillmore-based Island Express Holding Corp., according to the California secretary of state’s business database. The helicopter’s manufacturer, Sikorsky, said in a statement Sunday that it is cooperating with the investigation.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said people have flooded into the area of the crash, some going into residential neighborhoods and trying to get to the remote hillside where the helicopter went down. He said the traffic was making it harder for investigators and emergency personnel to do their jobs.

Investigators are looking into why a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others slammed into a Calabasas hillside.

“It is off-limits to everybody,” he said of the crash site, noting that the Federal Aviation Administration has a 5-mile no-fly zone around it up to altitudes of 5,000 feet. “People, stay away.”


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