Officials are working to recover victims’ remains from a hillside outside Los Angeles where a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others crashed in foggy weather.
About 20 investigators were on the scene where everyone aboard was killed on Sunday morning in a wreck that left debris scattered over an area the size of a football field.
The accident generated an outpouring of grief and shock around the world over the sudden loss of the all-time basketball great who spent his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thousands of fans, many wearing Bryant jerseys and chanting his name, gathered outside the Staples Center in central Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and site of Sunday’s Grammy Awards, where Bryant was honoured.
The 41-year-old, who died with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was one of the game’s most popular players and helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships.
The cause of the crash is unknown, but conditions at the time were such that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff’s department had grounded their own helicopters.
Los Angeles County medical examiner Jonathan Lucas said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete the task.
Three bodies were recovered on Sunday afternoon before darkness forced the search to be suspended, the coroner’s office said.
The Sikorsky S-76 went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles north west of central Los Angeles. Authorities did not say where Bryant was going, but the helicopter appeared to be heading in the direction of his youth sports academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament on Sunday in which Bryant’s daughter, known as Gigi, was competing.
Bryant’s helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9am, heading north and then west. Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank to the north and Van Nuys to the north west. The aircraft crashed around 9.45am at about 1,400ft, according to data from Flightradar24.
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 184mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000ft per minute, the data showed.
Federal safety investigators were sent to the scene. Among other things, they will look at the pilot’s history and the helicopter’s maintenance records, said National Transportation Safety Board board member Jennifer Homendy.
Firefighters had to hike to the scene with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter but found no survivors, authorities said.
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 drive.
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 home town.