OC coach killed in Calabasas helicopter crash remembered by family: 'His legacy will never be forgotten'

COSTA MESA, Calif. (KABC) -- A memorial on home plate of the Orange Coast College baseball field continued to grow Monday as the father of coach John Altobelli visited the school to pay his respects to his son who was among nine people killed in the Calabasas helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.

Altobelli was on the aircraft with his wife, Kerri, and daughter, Alyssa, when it crashed shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday in rough terrain in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street.

Alyssa was on the same basketball team as Gianna, Bryant's daughter who was killed in the crash. The Altobelli family often flew with Bryant to games.

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Altobelli's father said he lived and breathed baseball, and the OCC field was his favorite place in the world.

Although Jim Altobelli was still processing the loss of his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, he spoke to Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview.

"A lot harder than I thought. I already have my place over there when I pass away. They're gonna put me by the palm tree. I'll be a happy guy. But never knew this was gonna happen," he said.

Jim reflected on his son's life and legacy.

"He loved Kobe and thought the world of him. (John) is quite a guy. He's certainly going to be missed," Jim said.

A mourner who was seen kneeling by the memorial Monday morning recounted hearing the news of the crash.

"That was so surreal, like a scary nightmare yesterday, just the whole thing," he said. "I was kind of feeling I'd wake up and it was just a bad dream."

Altobelli was the longest-tenured baseball coach in the school's history and was entering his 28th season, according to the OCC Pirate Athletics. The team's home opener is Tuesday.

Altobelli was described as a giant on campus, as well as a mentor and friend.

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His brother, Tony, said he worked tirelessly to groom his players into young men.

"Tough act to follow, to say the least. He was somebody that I tried to measure my life around and he was kind of a big brother role model," he said. "Super proud of what he did here at Orange Coast. His legacy will never be forgotten here."

Tony said he had heard about the helicopter crash but didn't initially realize his brother had been on the aircraft. Someone told him his brother sometimes flies to youth games with Bryant. He started texting others at the school and got a phone call from an assistant coach.

"That was the first I heard of it. He said they were on that chopper and they're all gone."

Altobelli led the Pirates to numerous championship titles, garnering more than 700 wins during his career and four state championships.

"John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball," said Coast Athletic Director Jason Kehler in a written statement. "He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none - he treated them like family."

Christina Mauser, an assistant basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Orange County, was also killed in the crash, according to friends and family.

Christina Mauser's husband Matthew Mauser, the head basketball coach at the school, posted on Facebook: "My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much."

The school put out a brief statement saying the campus is in mourning: "Harbor Day School is devastated by the news. We are mourning the loss of members of our community. Our first priority is the well-being of our students. As news is publicized, we will ensure that our support team is made available to assist and counsel our students. We appreciate your patience and understanding."

The Altobellis leave behind an adult son and daughter.

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