Kobe Bryant added to long list of sports air tragedies


There is nothing more disconcerting, emotional and shocking than to be watching a sporting event and have it interrupted with an earth-shattering announcement:

“It is with a great sadness that we announced that legendary basketball star Kobe Bryant has died in a California helicopter crash.”

Stunning. Shocking. Is it true? Sadly, it was true.

Such was the case Sunday as I was watching horse racing on TVG. It was in mid-race at Gulfstream Park when the program’s hosts interrupted the race to relay the terrible news.

Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash puts the pro basketball icon on a tragic list of athletes who have died in air disasters.

(-)The first-known athlete to die in an airplane crash was Cincinnati Reds pitcher Marvin Goodwin in 1925. He had nine years of flight experience and was a flight instructor in World War I when he crashed at a Houston-area airfield.

(-)Another former Reds pitcher, Corey Lidle, died when he and his flight instructor crashed into a 42-story building in Manhattan.

(-)Several other baseball players have lost their lives in airplanes. Roberto Clemente finished the previous season with his 3,000th hit when he was on a DC-7, taking supplies to Nicaragua earthquake victims in 1972 when the plane went down off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Chicago Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs was 22 and was National League Rookie of the Year in 1962 and won a Gold Glove that year. He died in a 1962 plane crash.

New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died while practicing takeoffs and landings in his newly purchased Cessna at the Akron-Canton Airport.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay was killed in Florida while flying a homemade aircraft.

(-)Professional golf lost two winners of U.S. Open championships. Champagne Tony Lema, winner of one U.S. Open and Payne Stewart, winner of two U.S. Opens were airplane crash victims.

(-)Two NASCAR drivers were killed in crashes. Davey Allison, winner of the 1992 Daytona 500, lost his life when his helicopter crashed in the infield at Talladega Motor Speedway. Alan Kolwicki, the 1992 NASCAR Series champion, died in an airplane crash in 1993.

(-)Heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated, died on the eve of his 46th birthday in 1969. He was in a lightweight Cessna, flying in bad weather.

(-)And there were the tragedies involving teams that took so many lives — the Cal Poly football team that lost 22 players in 1960 in a crash near Toledo.

A chartered Martin 404 carrying the Wichita State University football team crashed into a Colorado mountain, killing 31 in 1970.

The entire Marshall University football team died in a DC-9 crash at Huntington Tri-State airport in bad weather.

And the entire University of Evansville basketball team was killed in 1977 while taking off from the Evansville Regional Airport.

(-)He wasn’t a player, but Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne was a legend. It was a national tragedy on the same level as Bryant’s death when he was killed as a passenger on a TWA commercial flight 599 in a Kansas prairie.

Every CBS radio station in American carried a broadcast of Rockne’s funeral in 1931.

And today, television is filled with news and tributes to the 41-year-old Bryant, known as Mamba, a man who once scored 81 points in a single game and scored 60 on the last game of his incredible career.

3 thoughts on “Kobe Bryant added to long list of sports air tragedies”

  1. I had the good fortune to meet Rocky Marciano while i was a photographer in the Air Force. What a great man he was. I got be with him for about 30 minutes. Just he and I.

  2. It’s beginning to appear that chopper should never have been in the air. Even the LAPD helicopter was grounded. Tough call on whether to go or not. Reminds me of JFK Jr., who took off in bad weather. His inexperience apparently played a role in that crash.

  3. Wilbur Shaw, 3-time winner of the Indy 500 and the man largely responsible in 1945 for Indiana businessman Anton Tony Hulman’s purchase from Eddie Rickenbacker a war closed ,dilapidated, weed infested Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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