The nine victims in the tragic helicopter crash that killed former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his young daughter Gianna also included three members of an esteemed college baseball coach’s family. In addition, Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach and wife of Tijuana Dogs vocalist Matt Mauser, died in the crash, along with an Orange County mother and daughter. The helicopter was headed to a girls’ basketball game that Gianna and two of her teammates were set to play in at a sports academy owned by Kobe Bryant.
John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, perished with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, in the helicopter crash. Alyssa was one of Gianna’s basketball teammates. Another player on the team, Payton Chester, and Payton’s mother, Sarah Chester, also died. The pilot, Ara Zobayan, also died in the crash.
The helicopter slammed into a Calabasas, California hillside under conditions of heavy fog around 10 a.m. on the morning of January 26, 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about the victims identified so far, including names, tributes, and photos:
Kobe Bryant needs no introduction. He was one of professional basketball’s biggest stars – ever. Kobe Bryant played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five NBA titles with them. He retired in 2016 as the third all-time scorer in NBA history. He had 33,643 points.
He was born in Philadelphia and found immediate celebrity when he joined the Lakers right after high school graduation in 1996. Married to wife Vanessa (who wasn’t on the helicopter), he was a father of four daughters with her.
“My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone. It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players,” wrote Magic Johnson, as the accolades for Kobe poured in.
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling.”
Kobe Bryant was just 41 years old.
Gianna ‘GiGi’ Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gianna Bryant died with her dad in the tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, according to TMZ Sports. Gianna was a teenage basketball player who aspired to be in the WNBA. Her dad once said she most wanted to keep his legacy alive.
According to TMZ, Bryant and his daughter were heading to the Mamba Academy for basketball practice in Thousand Oaks. ESPN reported that the father and daughter were going to a “travel basketball game.”
Kobe spoke to SLAM about coaching Gianna, who was known as Gigi. The site reported in March 2019 that Gianna and her AAU team “practice under his tutelage five times a week.”
This is how SLAM described one of Bryant’s coaching sessions with Gigi and the other girls: “They focused on their ability to finish around the rim, plus footwork and handles. At least twice, Bryant stopped everything and provided the entire team with a Detail-level lesson on ball movement and spacing.”
Like her dad, Gianna was a talented basketball player. In May, Bckonline reported that Kobe was coaching his daughter’s basketball team.
Kobe movingly and now heartbreakingly talked about how Gianna was poised to carry on his legacy, quoting her as saying, “I got this,” when people said it was too bad Kobe didn’t have a boy.
In that video, Jimmy Kimmel asks: “You think your daughter might want to play in the WNBA?”
Kobe, beaming with pride, responded, “She does for sure. This kid, man.”
“Wouldn’t that be great?” Kimmel said.
“Dude, man, I’ll tell you. The best thing that happens is when we go out, and fans will come up to me, and she will be standing next to me, and they will be like, ‘Hey, you gotta have a boy, you and Vi gotta have a boy, man, someone to carry on the tradition and the legacy,’ and she goes, ‘I got this.'”
Kobe then continued, “Yes, that’s right. Yes you do, you got this.”
To SLAM, Kobe said: “The girls are making incredible progress. Just wait until you see us in six years. I have a year-by-year plan for them. We are going to keep adding pieces on a schedule I’ve already mapped out.”
A highlight video, which you can see above, was shared on Twitter. The site reported: “She owns the court just like her father!”
Gianna Bryant was just 13 years old.
CBS News confirmed that Christina Mauser, girls’ basketball coach, was also killed.
Mayor Katrina Foley of Costa Mesa wrote on Twitter, “I just learned that our amazing Matt Mauser of TiajuanaDogs (sic) lost his wife Christina in the crash. She coached the girls team. This devastating tragedy gets worse by the hour. So much pain for so many local families. Our hearts are broken & grieving for the families impacted.” According to Daily News, she was a coach at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar.
Christina’s husband, Matt Mauser, confirmed her sad death on Facebook, writing, “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much.” On Facebook, Matt defines himself as a “Singer/Song Writer/Entertainer/Dad.”
Kevin Tripp of NBC News Radio wrote on Twitter, “One of the passengers on #KobeBryant helicopter was Christina Michelle Mauser of Huntington Beach. Her husband tells me that the 38-year-old mother loved helping coach basketball with Kobe’s team for girls. Their hearts break with everyone.”
John, Keri & Alyssa Altobelli
The website for Orange Coast College Pirate Athletics says that John Altobelli was the school’s head baseball coach. He was a former University of Houston baseball player. Orange Coast College is a community college in Costa Mesa, California.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Altobelli’s daughter was a player on Bryant’s basketball team alongside his daughter Gianna.
Altobelli was a fixture at his college. According to the school’s website, he was the “longest-tenured baseball coach in school history,” and was entering his 28th season as the head coach of the baseball program.
“The Pirates made history under Altobelli’s guidance in 2015, as they successfully defended their state baseball title with a return trip to Fresno and wins over nationally top-ranked San Joaquin Delta, No. 2 ranked Palomar and the No. 1 Mustangs again to win the title,” the college’s website says.
“John and his wife, Keri, along with daughters Alexis and Alyssa reside in Newport Beach,” says the bio. It was Alyssa who perished with her parents in the crash.
Kobe Bryant once shared a video of Alyssa on Instagram, writing, “I hate seeing my #teammamba girls play against each other. This is GREAT defense by our mamba pg Alyssa Altobelli and a familiar looking fade by our 2gd the #Mambacita.”
Altobelli’s son, J.J. played baseball for the University of Oregon and then moved on to be a graduate assistant there, following his dad in coaching footsteps, the bio says. According to MassLive, J.J. Altobelli is a Red Sox scout. He was not on the plane.
The Brewster Whitecaps wrote on Twitter, “We are heartbroken and shocked to learn that our former head coach, John Altobelli along with his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa passed away this morning in the helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. John was our head coach in 2012-14, and his son JJ played for us too. JJ and his other daughter Alexis survive them. Our heartfelt condolences to his family.”
Ara Zobayan, 50, was an experienced pilot who was flying the helicopter for the company that owned it, Island Express Helicopters, when it crashed. Zobayan lived in Huntington Beach.
According to KTLA-TV reporter Christina Pascucci, Zobayan was identified by friends. “He taught aspiring heli pilots to fly and was very much loved in the aviation community. They wrote ‘rest easy as you take your final flight to heaven.'” Pascucci, a pilot herself, wrote on Twitter, “Also, according to records, Ara was instrument rated. That means he was rated to fly in fog/clouds. … He did. He got permission to use special VFR flight rules to help him get around the fog. He was an excellent pilot according to friends. It’s too early to know if fog was the determining factor.”
A friend, Bella, wrote on Twitter, “Rest In Peace Ara. One of the sweetest pilots I’ve ever have had the pleasure to meet and converse with while working in the aviation business. Rest easy Kobe…Working for the aviation business has allowed me to meet some pretty amazing people and pilots. Ara was definitely one of them. Always so nice, talkative and especially attentive when it came to Kobe and his family. I’m heart broken.
Payton Chester & Sarah Chester
Payton Chester was one of Gianna Bryant’s teammates on the Mamba Sports Academy girls basketball team, according to her family. She died in the crash along with her mother, Sarah Chester. Payton’s brother, Riley Chester, wrote on Instagram, “Rest In Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”
Hayden Chester, said on Instagram, “The world lost two of the most beautiful women today. May your souls rest in piece. I love you.”
Payton Chester was a student at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School.
Sarah Chester was killed in the crash along with her daughter, Payton Chester. They were headed to Payton’s basketball game together. Payton Chester was previously a student at Harbor View Elementary School.
Todd Schmidt, the principal at Harbor View, wrote on Facebook, “As folks mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant, I want to take a moment to remember two gorgeous human beings who were with him, Sarah and Payton Chester…As a principal, we work with some amazing families…the Chesters were one of those…engaged, supportive, encouraging, and full of mischief and laughter…and they had the best kiddos! This family made such a huge impact at Harbor View…they were genuine, kind-hearted, and caring…to the staff, to other families…and yes, especially to me.”
Schmidt added, “While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important…their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken. You were both the embodiment of #hvepride, and the world is just a little less without you both in it. May you both Rest In Peace and know the deep impact you had on our lives. You will be so sorely missed.”
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