The helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant makes the NBA legend the latest in a long line of sports legends to die in an air tragedy.
The list of athletic luminaries who have perished in air crashes goes back decades and their names are a who’s who from the world of professional and college sports: Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, Payne Stewart, Knute Rockne, the Marshall football team.
Sports fans from coast to coast were in deep mourning over Sunday’s tragic helicopter accident in Los Angeles that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The helicopter was en route to Bryant’s youth basketball academy from his home in Orange County, Calif., when it crashed in foggy weather, officials said. Gianna was going to play in a game.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver remembered Bryant as “one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game.”
Before the crash that killed Bryant the most recent sports North American sports figure who died in an air accident was two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. The 40-year-old former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher died when his plane crashed on the west coast of Florida in November 2017. He was elected to the Hall of Fame last year.
Here are some of the other unfortunate aircraft accidents in the U.S. that have rocked the sports world over time:
Rockne, Notre Dame football’s legendary coach, was killed in March 1931 when his small plane crashed in a Kansas cornfield.
The Pittsburgh Pirates star was 38 when he died in a crash off Puerto Rico on New Year’s Eve 1972, just months after joining MLB’s 3,000-hit club during a distinguished 18-year career.
Clemente was on a mission of mercy at the time, flying to Nicaragua with relief supplies for earthquake victims.
The 32-year-old New York Yankee was killed when his plane crashed at Akron-Canton Airport in Ohio as he practiced takeoffs and landings during an off-day in August 1979.
Munson, the American League’s 1976 MVP, had learned to fly so he could fly back and forth during the season to visit his wife and children.
The former heavyweight boxing champ died at the age of 45 when his Cessna crashed into a tree two miles from landing at an airport near Des Moines, Iowa, in September 1969.
Marciano retired 13 years earlier with an undefeated 49-0 record.
A Chicago Cubs infielder, the 22-year-old Hubbs was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1963. Months later, in February 1964, he was killed when his private plane crashed in Utah.
37 members of the Marshall University football team
After a losing game against East Carolina University, a charter plane carrying most of the Marshall team crashed into a hillside in November 1970 on its return to West Virginia.
The tragedy became the inspiration for the hit 2006 movie, “We Are Marshall.”
14 members of the Wichita State football team
In October 1970, six weeks before the Marshall crash, 14 Wichita State players were among 31 killed when their plane crashed on a mountain near Silver Plume, Colo., on its way to Utah for a game the next day against Utah State University. Twenty-nine died at the scene. Trainer Tom Reeves and player John Taylor died later of injuries. Eight players and the co-pilot survived the crash.
Players and coaches another plane were told of the crash after landing in Utah. The Shockers voted to continue the season, adding freshmen to the team.
Golfer Stewart, a winner of three major championships, was a passenger in a Learjet that crashed into a cornfield in October 1999. He was 42. Before the crash, the jet lost cabin pressure and flew for several hours on autopilot long after everyone on board had lost consciousness and died for lack of oxygen.
Four days after pitching in a playoff game for the New York Yankees, Lidle, 34, was operating a small plane when it crashed into a Manhattan high-rise building in October 2006. He and his flight instructor were killed.
Allison, winner of 19 NASCAR races, including the 1992 Daytona 500, was 32 when he died after a helicopter he was piloting crashed in the Talladega Superspeedway in July 1993.
University of Evansville men's basketball coach Bobby Watson and 14 players
Watson and his players were en route to a game in Tennesee in December 1977 when their two-propeller charter airplance crashed in the fog in Evansville, Ind., shortly after take-off.
“People old enough to remember what happened at the time, they talk about it the way you might the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger disaster. They can tell you what they were doing, what time of day it was,” University of Evansville president Tom Kazee told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2017.
Iowa State University women's cross country team coach Ron Renko, an assistant coach and three team members.
Renko, assistant coach Pat Moynihan, and team members Julie Rose, Susan Baxter and Sheryl Maahs, were killed in November 1985 when their plane lost power in one engine and crashed near Des Moines.