By Julia Pierrepont III, Heng Huang
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) — The sleepy, upscale rural-suburban community of Calabasas, 50 kilometers east of Los Angeles downtown, was rocked Sunday morning with a devastating helicopter accident in which five-time NBA champion and Oscar-winning, Kobe Bryant, and his daughter Giannia Maria-Onore Bryant (“Gigi”) died tragically.
At a press conference held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office Sunday night, Sheriff Alex Villanueva disclosed that it would take the authority days to investigate the fatal accident happening at around 10:00 am, and identify all nine victims. However, it was confirmed that Kobe was on board and there is no survivor in the accident.
Kobe, Gigi, and the other passengers in the chopper were en route to Gigi’s basketball practice at Kobe’s Mamba Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks city when the accident occurred.
Clark Canfield, the local resident who reported the fire that erupted on the hillside, described to Xinhua that the helicopter flew overhead as he and his wife were walking their dog in the morning fog.
He remembers thinking – with tragic accuracy – how dangerous it seemed to fly in the canyons surrounded by steep hills when visibility was so low.
“That pilot must have a good instrument rating,” he had thought at the time.
But then, seconds later he and his wife heard a big “bang” sound and the hillside erupted into flames. He immediately called 911 and then directed the emergency vehicles to the exact location of the crash.
“Right where you see the burning and smoke is just about how low the fog was when it happened,” he told Xinhua, pointing at a smoldering spot in the nearby hillside behind the local school.
LA County Fire Chief Darryl Osby described the site as: “A flaming debris field that stretched for over half an acre … with nine casualties and no survivors.” He said none of the remains have yet been “formally identified.”
The Fire Chief also explained that some firefighters and paramedics hiked in over the fields to the site carrying medical emergency equipment and fire hoses, while others rappelled down from helicopters overhead to reach the isolated site in the California countryside.
“The fire was difficult to put out because there was magnesium in some of the helicopter parts and that react with contact to water,” he explained.
American, Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, Germans, Brits, and many other nationalities gathered on the bluff overlooking the crash site to mourn together and pay their respects.
Tony Zhang, visiting from Beijing, told Xinhua, “We love Kobe in China. My friends on Wechat are going crazy. This is a nightmare. I can’t believe it’s real.”
A family from the nearby city of Oxnard – mom, dad, and their two young daughters – was in tears at the makeshift memorial.
“We drove all the way down here the moment we heard,” the father, Dan, told Xinhua.
“It’s really sad – he was still pretty young and had a family,” said daughter Dania, 13. And 10-year old Sophia, who plays basketball at The Brekke School in Oxnard told Xinhua, “He was so talented. He’s why I play basketball.”
“He was the greatest human being on the court and off it too,” said their mom.
“No, no, no, I can’t believe it,” said longtime Kobe-Laker fan, Danny, tearfully as he joined throngs of other Laker and Kobe fans who flocked to the site of the crash to pay their respects and try to help each other deal with their devastating loss.
“I hope it’s just fake news,” he added, hoping to the last to hear there had been some mistake.
“He taught me to have a good work ethic and how to keep going even if things get tough,” said Sarah tearfully, a visitor from England.
“He’s my all-time favorite celebrity,” Brian from LA told Xinhua. “He was so motivational, his determination was inspiring. Whenever I see myself slacking off, I remember Kobe’s example.”
“The world lost a great human being,” Jonathan Cooper told Xinhua. “You couldn’t help but love his game and the all-around player that he was.”
Kobe spent his entire 20-season career with the LA Lakers, serving as the bedrock of the championship team, propelling them to 5 NBA Championships.
Though he was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Italy, as an international superstar, Kobe was also a beloved hero in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
Many members of the first responder team from the LA County fire department and sheriff’s departments were brushing tears from their eyes on the scene when they heard the accident claimed Kobe’s life.
LINK ORIGINAL: Xinhuanet