Remains of Kobe Bryant and others killed in helicopter crash are released to families

Kobe Bryant crash site
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator examines the wreckage of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others in Calabasas.

The remains of the nine people killed in last week’s helicopter crash in Calabasas, including Kobe Bryant, have been released to their families, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to investigate the Jan. 26 crash that killed the Lakers icon and others who were flying to a girls’ basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.

The chopper took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County mid-morning and encountered heavy fog en route to Camarillo Airport. The conditions were bad enough that the LAPD’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters and didn’t fly until later in the afternoon, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, of Huntington Beach, was worried enough to ask flight controllers to keep track of them. As he approached the hills of Calabasas at 150 mph, they radioed him, saying he was too low to be seen on radar.

Zobayan commenced a climb, rising 765 feet in 36 seconds, enough to clear nearby hills. But what happened next is a mystery: The Sikorsky S-76B suddenly veered off course and descended rapidly. The twin-engine aircraft dropped 325 feet in 14 seconds, reaching 176 mph before losing contact and striking the hillside above Las Virgenes Road, killing everyone aboard.

The crash, described by NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy as “a high-energy impact crash,” scattered debris across 600 feet. Coroner’s officials have determined that all nine people on board died of blunt force trauma.

Killed were Bryant, 41; his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45; her daughter Payton, 13; Zobayan; John Altobelli, 56; his wife, Keri Altobelli, 46; and their 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa.

The nine victims of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, clockwise from upper left: John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Ara Zobayan, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, Los Angeles civic leaders and the Lakers organization are working to put together a public memorial for the basketball star and his daughter.

The NTSB is expected to offer a preliminary assessment on the cause of the crash in about a week, but a final report could take a year. The federal agency had previously recommended helicopters like the one carrying Bryant be equipped with a terrain warning system, a safety feature that might have saved the lives of those on board.

Memorial service for Altobellis

A memorial service for John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli will be held Monday at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, according to Tony Altobelli, John’s brother.

The service will begin at 4 p.m., Tony Altobelli announced on Facebook.

“Needless to say ... there will be plenty of room, so if you’d like to be a part of this, we’d love to have you,” he said.

John Altobelli was the longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Alyssa was a teammate of Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester on the Mamba Sports Academy team.

John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli are survived by two other children, J.J., 29, a former University of Oregon shortstop who is a scout for the Boston Red Sox, and Alexis, 16, a high school junior in Newport Beach.

The Orange Coast College Foundation has established an Altobelli family memorial fund. Donations can be mailed to the Orange Coast College Foundation at 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa, CA, 92626 or made through the foundation’s website.

Richard Winton writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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7:00 AM, Feb. 04, 2020: This article was originally published at 6:52 p.m. Feb. 3 and has been updated with new information.