Following the Calabasas helicopter crash that killed the NBA icon, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, a source tells PEOPLE that the Bryants, who wed in April 2001, “always considered what was best” for their daughters, including Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri.
“It’s not necessarily because you are concerned something will happen, it’s just a precaution,” the source says of Kobe and Vanessa’s choice to fly separately. “A lot of couples with children make plans that are in the best interest of their children. It was the same for Kobe and Vanessa.”
The source adds, “The decision to not fly together was not fear-based. It was a decision that they made because they felt it was the best for their family. As very family-focused parents, they always considered what was best for the children. This is why Kobe started flying in the first place. He wanted to make sure he could work and be the best dad possible.”
The father-daughter pair were two of nine victims, along with John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan, in the fatal helicopter crash, which took place on Jan. 26 around 10 a.m. local time in Calabasas, California.
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Bryant previously shared the reason why he used helicopters during his two decades playing for the Los Angeles Lakers while his family was based in Orange County, California.
Explaining his mode of transportation as a way to spend more time with his family — and less time stuck in traffic — the father of four told Alex Rodriguez in 2018 that he “had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time.”
“I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing like a school play,” Bryant said, adding, “So that’s when I looked into helicopters, to be able to get down and back in 15 minutes and that’s when it started.”
“One of the biggest things he was looking forward to after retiring from the NBA was getting to spend more time with his family,” a friend close to the family previously told PEOPLE. “He was a very hands-on dad and, like any other father, saw such bright futures for all of his daughters. He was so proud to see them take after not only him and Vanessa, but also grow into their own. He had a special bond with each of his daughters.”
Days after the deadly incident, Vanessa, 37, shared her first public statement in an emotional post on Instagram Wednesday, telling fans she’s “devastated” over the loss of her “adoring” husband and their “beautiful, sweet” daughter Gianna.
“We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” she said. “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
The mother of four continued, “I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”
In her statement, Vanessa also announced that the Mamba Sports Foundation set up the MambaOnThree Fund to “help support the other families affected by this tragedy.”