Nine people — including NBA legend Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna "Gigi" Bryant — were killed Sunday when a helicopter crashed amid foggy conditions in Calabasas, California.
The victims included two other teenage girls with their family members, a basketball coach, and the pilot of the helicopter. The victims were on their way from Orange County to a girls basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
While LA County officials have not released the victims' identities, their employers, family members, and friends paid tribute to them on social media.
John Altobelli, a 56-year-old head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife, Keri, and youngest daughter, Alyssa, 13, were among those who died.
Alyssa and Gianna were teammates at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. The team was set to play against a Fresno youth team on Sunday afternoon, the Fresno Bee reported.
Last November, Bryant shared a video of Gianna and Alyssa — who was a point guard on the team — playing against each other, saying, “I hate seeing my #teammamba girls play against each other.”
John Altobelli had been a coach and mentor at Orange Coast College (OCC) for 27 years, helping many student-athletes earn scholarships so they could play at the four-year level, the college said in a statement.
"Coach Alto," the college said, helped lead the Pirates to more than 700 wins and four state championships. He was named the National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2019.
“It's hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department," OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said in a statement. "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."
Altobelli is survived by two other children, his son, J.J., and daughter, Lexi.
Christina Mauser, 38, was the assistant coach for the Mamba Academy basketball team.
“My kids and I are devastated,” her husband, Matt Mauser, wrote in a Facebook post. “We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”
The couple has three children, ages 11, 9, and 3.
“I got three small kids and am trying to figure out how to navigate life with three kids and no mom,” an emotional Matt Mauser told the Today Show.
He said his wife was “beautiful, smart, funny.”
“She was incredibly deep ... just an amazing person."
Matt Mauser said that Bryant had personally selected his wife to coach the girls team “because she was so amazing.”
“[Bryant] asked her to teach the kids defense," Mauser said. "They called her the mother of defense."
The Mausers had previously coached the eighth-grade girls basketball team at the private Harbor Day School — where they coached Gianna to a school championship in 2017, the New York Times reported. Christina Mauser had been a coach and physical education teacher at the school for 11 years before she and her husband left in 2018.
Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton, also died in the crash. Payton was a basketball player, NBC News reported.
Payton’s brother remembered his loved ones on Instagram with photos, including one that showed his sister laughing with Bryant.
“Rest In Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister,” Riley Chester wrote. “I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”
Todd Schmidt, the former principal at Harbor View Elementary School, wrote a heartfelt tribute to Payton, his former student, and her mother, calling them “two gorgeous human beings.”
“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,” Schmidt wrote in a Facebook post.
He described the Chester family as “engaged, supportive, encouraging, and full of mischief and laughter...and they had the best kiddos!”
“You were both the embodiment of #hvepride, and the world is just a little less without you both in it,” he wrote.
Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter, was a beloved figure in the aviation community. He was “instrument-rated” which meant he was able to fly in fog and clouds, KTLA reporter Christina Pascucci said.
Zobayan was Bryant’s private pilot, according to one of his flight students, Darren Kemp.
Kemp told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant didn’t “let anyone else fly him around but Ara."
He described Zobayan as a dedicated and caring flight instructor invested in his students’ success.
When Kemp wanted to drop out, he recalled Zobayan telling him, “If you love this, then nothing will stop you.”
“Ara was an incredible pilot, instructor pilot, charter pilot and truly a great man,” Jared Yochim, Zobatan’s friend and a fellow pilot, said in a Facebook tribute.
“He was not your typical egotistical helicopter pilot like most of us honestly are. Ara was a man that always remained cool, calm and collected," Yochim wrote. "As more people that knew Ara open up about him, you’ll only hear words like professional, calculated and loving. He was always good for a laugh.”