US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama have paid tributes to basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his young daughter who died in a horrific helicopter crash in California, just as he was getting started in life.
Bryant, 41, was confirmed dead after a helicopter carrying the former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others crashed on Sunday morning in Calabasas, near Los Angeles, and burst into flames, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, killing everyone on board.
“Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating….,” President Trump tweeted.
“Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!” he added.
Former President Obama also condoled the death of Bryant and his daughter.
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.
“Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day,” Obama tweeted.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) issued a statement saying it was “devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna”.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” it said.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan also issued a statement, describing Bryant as a “little brother” to him.
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” Jordan said.
“Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe he was like a little brother to me.”
“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, he said on Bryant, who retired in April, 2016.
Meanwhile, local and federal authorities were investigating the accident and authorities said it may take a couple of days to recover the bodies of the victims due to the remote location of the crash site.
“It’s a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, adding that the investigation could be a “very extensive process.”
The effort to recover the victims’ bodies has also begun but could take a couple of days, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said, “given the terrain and the condition of the site.”
“We’re doing everything we can to confirm identifications and give closure to the families involved,” he was quoted as saying by CNN.
The coroners have not officially named the victims.
Bryant was travelling to a basketball game with his daughter, Gianna, who was scheduled to play Sunday afternoon. With them was Orange Coast College (OCC) baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, Altobelli’s brother told CNN. Alyssa was Gianna’s teammate, OCC assistant coach Ron La Ruffa said.
Among the victims was also Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach for a private school in Corona del Mar, California, the report said.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history. At 18, he became, at the time, the youngest player or starter in an NBA game and the youngest winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters — the youngest of which was born in June.