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Kobe Bryant's body identified among helicopter crash victims

Bryant's body was officially identified along with three others using fingerprints, two days after their helicopter crashed into a rugged hillside northwest of the city.

Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant and her father, Kobe Bryant, died in a helicopter crash. Picture: @kobebryant/instagram.com

LOS ANGELES - Medical examiners identified the body of NBA legend Kobe Bryant after recovering the remains of all nine people who died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles, officials said Tuesday.

Bryant's body was officially identified along with three others using fingerprints, two days after their helicopter crashed into a rugged hillside northwest of the city.

Meanwhile, federal investigators finished their inspection of the crash site, handing it over to local authorities.

"We are done on the site," said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Images showed investigators earlier flying drones over the accident site and manually combing through twisted, charred wreckage of the helicopter, which was scattered over a wide area of 180 meters.

Officials also used drones to replicate the helicopter's final, fateful flight path, Homendy said.

Earlier Tuesday, the coroner's office confirmed all nine bodies have been retrieved from the site and "transported to the department's forensic science centre" for examination.

The bodies of pilot Ara Zobayan, baseball coach John Altobelli and Sarah Chester have also been identified.

The remaining five -- including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna -- have not yet been officially identified.

The death of Bryant -- a five-time NBA champion for the LA Lakers and double Olympic gold medalist -- has shocked the world, with tributes continuing to pour in Tuesday.

'PRETTY DEVASTATING'

Bryant, 41, was travelling with daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the Sikorsky S-76 slammed into a hillside in thick fog in Calabasas, northwest of LA.

The helicopter was headed to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where his daughter was set to play.

Homendy described the accident as a "high energy impact crash," having earlier labelled the crash scene as "pretty devastating."

Homendy said the helicopter did not have a "terrain awareness and warning system" installed. The NTSB in 2004 had recommended to federal aviation authorities that the system be required on all helicopters with six or more passenger seats, but the recommendation was not adopted, she added.

Investigators have now airlifted the helicopter's wreckage onto trucks, which then transported it to a secure location for further examination.

An iPad, cellphone and maintenance records were found among the wreckage, along with "everything we would expect would be on the aircraft," said Homendy.

She told journalists that the probable cause for the accident may not be confirmed for 12-18 months when a final report will be issued.

A preliminary, fact-based report is expected in 10 days.

'HEARTBROKEN AND DEVASTATED'

The other passengers on the flight -- who have not yet been officially identified -- have been named as Altobelli's wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, who played basketball at the same club as Gianna.

Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of the Mamba girls' basketball team, was also killed along with Payton Chester, Sarah's daughter.

Mourning fans Tuesday placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the gated community in Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, where the late NBA great lived.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said a tribute to Bryant would be included in next month's Oscars ceremony telecast.

The star, who won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short film "Dear Basketball," had been honoured with a moment's silence at the Oscars nominees luncheon on Monday.

A petition for the NBA logo to be redesigned with Bryant's likeness had reached two million signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

The NBA postponed Tuesday's Lakers game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Basketball superstar LeBron James said he was "heartbroken and devastated" over Bryant's death in an emotional Instagram post, while also vowing to continue his friend's championship legacy with the Lakers.

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic donned a jersey bearing Bryant's initials and shirt numbers at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

With the crash site becoming a pilgrimage point for fans, police on horseback and all-terrain vehicles have been brought in to secure the area.

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