Respect for Kobe Bryant prompts NBA to postpone Lakers-Clippers game after deadly helicopter crash

CALABASAS, California -- The NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Clippers scheduled for Tuesday at Staples Center has been postponed following the helicopter crash that left nine people dead, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.

In a statement, the NBA said, "The decision was made out of respect for the Lakers organization, which is deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people. The game will be rescheduled at a later date."

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While the cause of the tragedy is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, some experts raised questions of whether the helicopter should have even been flying. The weather was so foggy that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department had grounded their own choppers.

Bryant's Sikorsky S-76 went down Sunday morning, killing the retired athlete along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and everyone else aboard and scattering debris over an area the size of a football field.

Crews recovered three bodies on Sunday and resumed the search on Monday amid an outpouring of grief and shock over the loss of the basketball great who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles during his dazzling 20-year career.

The pilot Ara Zobayan, who was trained by Group 3 Aviation, had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash. Several aviation experts said it is not uncommon for helicopter pilots to be given such permission, though some thought it unusual that it would be granted in airspace as busy as that over Los Angeles.

But Kurt Deetz, who flew for Bryant dozens of times in the same chopper that went down, said permission is often granted in the area.

It happened all the time in the winter months in LA, Deetz said. You get fog.''

The helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m., heading north and then west. Bryant was believed to be headed for his youth sports academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament Sunday in which Bryant's daughter, known as Gigi, was competing.

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Kobe Bryant's Sikorsky S-76 went down Sunday morning, killing the retired athlete along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and everyone else aboard and scattering debris over an



Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank to the north and Van Nuys to the northwest. At one point, the controllers instructed the chopper to circle because of other planes in area before proceeding.

Aviation experts said may have been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented in the fog.

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The aircraft crashed in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, around 9:45 a.m. at about 1,400 feet (426 meters), according to data from Flightradar24. When it struck the ground, it was flying at about 184 mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, the data showed.

Bryant had been known since his playing days for taking helicopters instead of braving the notoriously snarled Los Angeles traffic. I'm not going into LA without the Mamba chopper,'' he joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live'' in a 2018 interview, referring to his own nickname, Black Mamba.

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Randy Waldman, a helicopter flight instructor who teaches at the nearby Van Nuys airport, said its likely the pilot got disoriented in the fog and the helicopter went into a fatal dive.

"It's a common thing that happens in airplanes and helicopters with people flying with poor visibility," Waldman said. "If you're flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can't see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds, and it happens all the time, and it's really a shame."

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Waldman said it was the same thing that happened to John F. Kennedy Jr. when his plane dropped out of the sky near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, in 1999.

"A lot of times somebody who's doing it for a living is pressured to get their client to where they have to go," Waldman said. "They take chances that maybe they shouldn't take."

David Hoeppner, an expert on helicopter design, said he won't fly on helicopters.

"Part of it is the way they certify and design these things, said Hoeppner, a retired engineering professor at the University of Utah. But the other part is helicopter pilots often fly in conditions where they shouldn't be flying.''

On Sunday, firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter. About 20 investigators were on the site early Monday.

The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said the terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete the task.

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Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter; and Christina Mauser, a girls' basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school.

"I've listened to the tapes and I've seen the flight profile, where there was rapid acceleration and climb, there was a rapid descent, those are indicative of someone who is experiencing spatial disorientation," said Jerry Kidrick, a retired Army colonel who flew helicopters in Iraq and now teaches at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

When that happens, he said, pilots must instantly switch from visual cues to flying the aircraft using only the machine's instruments.

"It's one of the most dangerous conditions you can be in," Kidrick said. "Oftentimes, your body is telling you something different than what the instruments are telling you. You can feel like you're leaning to the left or the right when you're not. If the pilot isn't trained well enough to believe the instruments, you get in a panic situation. You find yourself making corrections the wrong way."

News of the charismatic superstar's death rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and anguish.

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"Words can't describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe - he was like a little brother to me," retired NBA great Michael Jordan said. "We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force."

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night when the Lakers' LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant's hometown.

He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA's All-Defensive teams. He teamed with Shaquille O'Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

His Lakers tenure was marred by scandal when in 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

Bryant went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, and retired in 2016.

Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter, said Altobelli's brother, Tony, who is the sports information director at the school.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley tweeted that the dead also included Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school. 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."
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