Episcopal school trustee, student are among dead in Jan. 26 California helicopter crash

By Janet Kawamoto
Posted Jan 28, 2020

Payton Chester (right), a student at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and her mother, Sarah, a school trustee. Photo courtesy of Catherine George

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Sarah Chester, 45, a trustee of St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, California, and her daughter Payton, 13, an eighth-grade student there, were among the nine people who died in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26 in Calabasas.

Retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna also died in the crash.

The other five crash victims were Orange Coast College basketball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, an assistant basketball coach; and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, a respected flight instructor.

Gianna, Payton and Alyssa were members of an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team based at Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. The group was headed for a basketball tournament at the academy’s Thousand Oaks location when the crash occurred. According to news reports, Bryant and his family often traveled by helicopter to avoid traffic.

Survivors in the Chester family include Sarah’s husband and Payton’s father Chris; Sarah and Chris’s twin sons Hayden and Riley, who are 10th graders at St. Margaret’s School; Sarah’s mother, Catherine George, a member of St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Whittier; and Sarah’s brothers Andy and Chris George.

“This is an unimaginable loss for the Chester family and the entire St. Margaret’s community,” wrote William N. Moseley, head of St. Margaret’s School, in a letter informing faculty, students and parents of the tragedy. “We are a community in mourning. Our greatest strength is when our St. Margaret’s community pulls together with arms around one another, and this is one of those times.”

“The deaths of Sarah and Payton, beloved members of our diocesan family, in a tragic accident receiving global attention serve as heartbreaking reminders of the connectedness and unity of all creation – of the indissoluble bonds among all who walk in faith,” said Bishop John Harvey Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “Each of us in the Diocese of Los Angeles is praying for Chris, Sarah’s husband; for Hayden and Riley, Payton’s brothers; for Catherine George of St. Matthias in Whittier, Sarah’s mother; for the whole St. Margaret’s Episcopal School community; and for the Bryant family and the families of all who died.”

Catherine George told NBC News that Payton was an accomplished basketball player who “loved playing for Kobe Bryant. He was a great coach.”

She said Sarah was “the heart of that family,” a devoted mother who spent much of her time nurturing her children’s talent for sports and the family’s love of travel.

Payton had ambitions to play basketball in high school and college, said her uncle Andy George, a football coach at La Serna High School in Whittier. “She had the sweetest soul – the kindest, … gentlest person you would ever meet,” George told the Orange County Register. “She always had a huge smile on her face. Every time we would see her she would spend all her time with my little daughters.”

George said his sister Sarah was “the one that everybody counted on. She was there for everyone. She was everything to her family, to our family. Anytime I needed anything, she was the person I went to.”

– Janet Kawamoto is editor of The Episcopal News, a publication of the Diocese of Los Angeles.