Bodies being recovered from scene of Kobe Bryant helicopter crash

By John Besley, PA

The bodies of the victims of the helicopter crash that killed basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others have started to be recovered.

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion who played for the LA Lakers throughout his 20-year career, is widely considered to be among the greatest players in basketball history.

As investigators continue to scour the crash site in Los Angeles, tributes to the 41-year-old have been paid on social media and outside the Lakers home court at the Staples Centre.

Thousands of mourners gathered to pay tribute at a vigil, while fellow Laker LeBron James wrote of being “heartbroken and devastated” at the news.

The pilot of the helicopter told air traffic controllers he was climbing to avoid a layer of cloud shortly before the crash into a hillside in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles, on Sunday, according to the National Transport Safety Bureau (NTSB).

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also died in the crash (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

The “experienced” pilot Ara Zobayan received special clearance to fly in heavy fog in the minutes before the crash and was flying at 1,400 feet.

Radar data revealed he then climbed to 2,300 feet before beginning a left descending turn. The wreckage of the Sikorsky S-76B was found at 1,085 feet, the NTSB said.

Meanwhile, LA County sheriff Alex Villanueva said the difficult terrain of the hillside crash site meant it would take some time for all of the victims’ bodies to be recovered and officially identified.

“The coroner… started recovering human remains last night and they’re continuing (that process) for the next several days,” he said.

“It’s rugged terrain and it’s a very steep hill. In fact, they had to bulldoze a road just to get a normal-size vehicle to the location, so it is very difficult.”

A shrine to Bryant has been set up outside the Staples Centre, complete with candles, flowers and photographs from fans.

Fans pay their respects at a memorial outside the Staples Centre (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

The side’s game against local rivals the Los Angeles Clippers which was due to take place on Tuesday has been postponed, while tributes to the double Olympic gold medallist have continued.

Among the more powerful messages for the 18-time All Star was an Instagram post from current Laker LeBron James.

“I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had,” James wrote just days after passing Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!!

“Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!!

“Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!!”