The pilot flying Kobe Bryant and seven others to a youth basketball tournament did not have alcohol or drugs in his system, and all nine sustained immediately fatal injuries when their helicopter slammed into a hillside outside Los Angeles in January, according to autopsies released Friday.
The reports by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office provide a clinical but unvarnished look at just how brutal the crash was, describing broken bones, dismembered body parts and a stench of fuel on what remained of clothing that burned.
One of the most popular sports figures in Los Angeles and a celebrity around the globe, Bryant was broken beyond recognition when his body was found in the dirt outside the wreckage of the chopper. His remains had to be identified by his fingerprints.
The graphic report made it clear: Bryant and the passengers almost certainly were dead in an instant due to blunt trauma.
“These injuries are rapidly if not instantly fatal,” wrote Juan Carrillo, senior deputy medical examiner, in Bryant’s report.
The horrific crash that killed the 41-year-old retired Los Angeles Lakers star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna — wearing the jersey she would have worn to play that morning, with the word “Mamba” on the front and her last name on the back — pilot Ara Zobayan and the others is considered accidental.
Bryant was headed from Orange County to his daughter’s tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks on the morning of Jan. 26. The group, including one of his daughter’s coaches, and two of her teammates, encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.
Zobayan, an experienced pilot who often flew Bryant, climbed sharply and had nearly succeeded breaking through the clouds when the craft took an abrupt left turn and plunged into the grassy, oak studded hills below.
When it struck the ground, it was flying at about 296 kph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute. The impact caused a crater and scattered debris over an area the size of a football field in the Calabasas hills. Flames engulfed the wreckage, but burns on the bodies were determined to have occurred after death.
Bryant’s body was found on one side of the wreckage and his daughter was found in a ravine on the opposite side.
Although Bryant was unrecognizable, a forensic examination offered reminders of the all-star who soared high in the imaginations of Lakers fans and was wearing “multicoloured court shoes” the day he died.
The autopsy noted a tattoo of a crown on his right shoulder, above where his wife’s name, Vanessa, was imprinted. On the lower right arm were the names of three of his four daughters: Bianka Bella, Natalia Diamante and Gianna Maria-Onore, the daughter who died with him.