Helicopter Crash First Responders Learned of Kobe’s Death, Increasing Toll From Cellphone News Alerts

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Much like the public, many first responders at the scene of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash Sunday were glued to their phones for the latest information as the tragedy rapidly unfolded.

Reserve deputies with the Malibu Search and Rescue Team responded within seconds of the crash being reported in the rugged hills above Calabasas, and among the first to arrive was team captain David Katz.

Katz rushed to the site when his team got an automated text alert of an aircraft down around 9:50 a.m. After a paramedic dropped into the scene by helicopter and determined there were no survivors, his crew went to retrieve ATVs from the nearby sheriff’s station to better access the crash.

“Just as I was putting gas in the ATV, the breaking news alert popped up on my phone: Kobe Bryant and helicopter crash,” he said in an interview on KTLA Thursday. “You put two and two together right away, and you realize you’re at that incident.”

At about 11:30 a.m., TMZ became the first outlet to report Bryant’s death.

At that point, Katz knew there were at least three victims. As other agencies combed through the crash site, he says news alerts continuing to roll into his phone were how he learned of the increasing death toll.

Malibu Search and Rescue’s coverage area includes Malibu and Calabasas, so Katz says he’s no stranger to incidents involving high-profile individuals — but “never anything to this magnitude, and I’ve been doing this 30 years.”

His crew Sunday was focused on preventing onlookers from accessing the scene, especially after learning who was involved.

“That was the part we were most concerned about when we first got word,” he said. “There were people coming in with jerseys on, hiking across the ridge lines screaming, ‘Kobe,’ from half a mile away.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Monday issued an emergency ordinance making it a misdemeanor to enter the site, and deputies have been patrolling the rugged terrain on horseback.

A team of 23 Malibu Search and Rescue officials and 11 Montrose Search and Rescue members were at the site around-the-clock for two days in the aftermath.

Although Katz’s crew is also accustomed to traumatic scenes, he says they’ve been taking extra care to process Sunday’s loss. A doctor will be meeting with them next Tuesday to discuss the signs of symptoms of PTSD.

“I know there were some people from our team in the aftermath that were having some issues, initially,” Katz said.

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