Kobe Bryant joins list of notable US athletes killed in air crashes

VIDEO: Notable athletes killed in air crashes

Knute Rockne. Roberto Clemente. Payne Stewart. Roy Halladay. Kobe Bryant now joins the list of notable athletes playing in the United States who died in aircraft crashes.

Bryant, 41, died Sunday when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed into a steep hill near Calabasas, California. The former Los Angeles Lakers star was one of nine people killed in the accident. The crash also killed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

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The first recorded instance of an athlete dying from a plane crash was Cincinnati Reds pitcher Marvin Goodwin, who died Oct. 21, 1925, three days after crashing on a Houston-area airfield. According to newspaper accounts, Goodwin, who had nine years of experience as a pilot and was an instructor during World War I, was injured Oct. 18, 1925, when the plane he was flying went into a tailspin and plummeted 200 feet at Ellington Air Field near Houston.

Here are some other notable air tragedies involving athletes:

Nov. 7, 2017: Halladay, 40, the former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, died when his plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Oct. 11, 2006: Cory Lidle, 34, was killed when the single-engine plane carrying the New York Yankees pitcher and his flight instructor crashed into a 42-story building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Lidle had been a pilot for less than a year.

Sept. 11, 2001: Three people with sports ties were aboard flights that crashed after being hijacked by terrorists on 9/11. Garnet “Ace” Bailey, the director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, and amateur scout Mark Bavis were passengers on United Airlines Flight 175, which was the second jet to hit the World Trade Center. Mari Rae Sopper, the gymnastics coach at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon near Washington the same day.

Feb. 14, 2000: Tony Bettenhausen, Jr., 48, the youngest son of a famous auto racing family, died near Lexington, Kentucky. Bettenhausen’s wife, Shirley Bettenhausen, and two men were killed when their plane crashed on a farm. The plane was headed to Indianapolis after taking off from Blountville, Tennessee.

Oct. 25, 1999: Stewart, a two-time U.S. Open golf champion, died when a twin-engine Learjet crashed in a field near Aberdeen, South Dakota. The jet began veering off course shortly after takeoff from Orlando, Florida as it headed toward Dallas. The business jet continued to fly northwest for more than four hours until apparently running out of fuel. The National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause of the crash was the loss of consciousness of two pilots caused by a loss in cabin pressure and a failure to get emergency oxygen.

July 13, 1993: NASCAR driver Davey Allison, 32, who won the 1992 Daytona 500, died in Birmingham, Alabama, a day after a helicopter he was piloting crashed at Talladega Superspeedway. Allison had bought the helicopter three weeks before his death.

April 1, 1993: Alan Kulwicki, who was NASCAR’s 1992 series champion, and three others were killed in a plane crash while making an approach to Tri-Cities airport near Kingsport, Tennessee. Kulwicki was traveling to that weekend’s Winston Cup race at nearby Bristol Motor Speedway.

Aug. 2, 1979: Thurman Munson, 32, the New York Yankees catcher and team captain, died in Akron, Ohio. Munson was killed while practicing takeoffs and landings in his Cessna plane. Munson landed his plane just short of the runway at Akron-Canton Airport. Munson’s neck was broken and he was paralyzed by the impact of the crash, unable to exit the plane when it burst into flames. A friend and flight instructor both survived the crash.

Dec. 13, 1977: Fourteen members of the University of Evansville basketball team and coach Bobby Watson were among 29 people killed when the DC-3 plane they were traveling in crashed two minutes after takeoff in Evansville, Indiana. The players were headed to Nashville, Tennessee, for a game against Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro.

Dec. 31, 1972: Roberto Clemente, 38, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ star right fielder, was killed when a DC-7 plane, carrying relief supplies for earthquake victims in Nicaragua, crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico shortly after takeoff from San Juan. Clemente would be posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming the first Latin American baseball player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Nov. 14, 1970: Thirty-six members of the Marshall University football team were killed when Flight 932, a chartered twin-engine, 95-seat DC-9 plane, crashed after striking a tree about a mile west of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. The team was returning home after a 17-14 loss to Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The plane crash, which claimed 75 lives, and its aftermath were the subject of the 2006 movie, “We Are Marshall.”

Oct. 2, 1970: Fourteen Wichita State football players were killed en route to Utah for a game the next day against Utah State University. The team had flown on two airplanes and had stopped to refuel in Denver before heading to Utah. The pilots of one plane changed their flight plan to give passengers a scenic view of the Rocky Mountains, but they could not pull the Martin 404 plane out of a box canyon. The plane crashed on Mount Trelease, located 40 miles west of Denver, a peak that rose 10,750 feet above sea level.

Aug. 31, 1969: Former heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, who retired with an unbeaten record, was killed in a wooded area 2 miles from an airport in Newton, Iowa. Marciano, who held the heavyweight title from 1952 until he retired in 1956, was headed to Des Moines to visit some friends. Marciano died a day before his 46th birthday.

Feb. 15, 1964: Ken Hubbs, 22, a promising second baseman for the Chicago Cubs who won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1962, died when the plane carrying him crashed in Provo, Utah. He was the first rookie in major league history to win a Gold Glove. The Topps Company, which prints and markets baseball cards, took the unprecedented step of including an “In Memoriam” card of Hubbs for its 1964 set.

Oct. 30, 1954: Wilbur Shaw, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, died when his plane crashed in a cornfield near Peterson, Indiana. Shaw died a day before his 52nd birthday. Shaw was returning from Detroit after a test run in a new car.

March 31, 1931: Rockne, Notre Dame’s legendary football coach, died when a TWA commercial jet crashed on a Kansas prairie. Among the tributes that poured in for “Rock,” the Tulsa World reprinted Walt Whitman’s poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” written after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. CBS radio broadcasted Rockne’s funeral, which was carried by all 79 of its affiliates nationwide.

Roy Halladay was killed when a plane he was piloting crashed off Florida's west coast in 2017.
Roy Halladay was killed when a plane he was piloting crashed off Florida's west coast in 2017. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)