Daughter’s friends also killed in crash
Friends and teammates of Gianna Bryant have also been named among those tragically killed in the helicopter crash that killed her NBA legend father, Kobe.
Gianna, 13, known as Gigi, was following in her dad's footsteps to become a professional basketballer before the terrible accident on Sunday.
The pair were travelling to a match for his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousands Oaks, California, for a basketball game she was expected to play in and Bryant was expected to coach.
The pair were killed alongside seven others when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
While police and authorities have not officially released the names of those on board, family members of some victims have confirmed their loved ones' deaths.
They include John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri and youngest daughter Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter.
John Altobelli was the longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team and was described as a "legendary figure in his own right" by LA Times deputy sports editor Mike Hiserman.
OCC baseball team mourning loss of coach John Altobelli in helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/KqwP0xZVG1— Mike DiGiovanna (@MikeDiGiovanna) January 26, 2020
A coach who was a legendary figure in his own right died in the same copter clash that killed #KobeByrant: John Altobelli of @orangecoast baseball. His wife and a daughter died as well. @MikeDiGiovanna reported from the @OCCAthletics baseball field:https://t.co/W5ThPXcD2L— mike hiserman (@MikeHiserman) January 27, 2020
Orange Coast College confirmed the news with an emotional statement, saying the family members were survived by Altobelli's son, JJ and daughter Lexi.
"It's hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department," OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said.
"John was a tremendous coach and an even better friend. Beyond that, he was an amazing mentor to all of the students and athletes that he taught and coached. He treated them all like family and his impact will live on forever."
It is with a shattered heart that we announce the passing of longtime head baseball coach John Altobelli, who died on Sunday in a helicopter crash, along with his wife, Keri and youngest daughter, Alyssa. https://t.co/3fjndZDzXD pic.twitter.com/cWFch9H4SV— OCC Athletics (@OCCAthletics) January 27, 2020
Another young basketball player on Gianna Bryant's team, Payton Chester and her mother Sarah Chester, also died according to family members.
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".
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!"
The pilot of the helicopter, Ara Zobayan, also perished, according to local US reports.
The 50-year-old was an experienced pilot working for the company that owned it, Island Express Helicopters.
Friends said he taught aspiring heli pilots to fly and was very much loved in the aviation community.
Friends have identified the pilot as— Christina Pascucci (@ChristinaKTLA) January 27, 2020
Ara Zobayan. 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.”@KTLA #KobeBryant pic.twitter.com/8pQh9eNJTk
Christina Mauser also died in the crash, according to Costa Mesa mayor Katrina Foley who tweeted the news.
She was a girls basketball coach at a nearby private school and 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".
An investigation into the cause of the crash will begin today.
According to early reports, the helicopter made a steep climbing move to get above a thick layer of fog seconds before crashing into a hill, killing everyone on board.
Witnesses described hearing a spluttering sound moments before the crash.
Devastated fans of Bryant's have made a makeshift memorial for the star near the Staples Centre arena - home to the LA Lakers.
Bryant's wife Vanessa was not on board. The pair have three other daughters apart from Gianna - Natalia, Bianca and Capri.