The Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter HB-1 crashed into the surf while responding to a call for service in Newport Beach.
The pilot, 14-year veteran Nicholas Vella, died of injuries suffered during the crash. The other pilot, 16-year veteran, was released from the hospital earlier today.
Officer Vella is survived by his wife and daughter.
“The city of Huntington Beach, the residents of Huntington Beach, the Huntington Beach Police Department and the law enforcement community have lost an officer who was truly dedicated to his job and was doing what he loved doing,” said HBPD Chief Eric Parra. “This is a difficult night for all of us and I would ask for your prayers and support as we support our officers’ families.”
The Huntington Beach Police Department provides helicopter service under contract to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, after both cities disbanded their helicopter units due to budget pressures. Yesterday evening, HB-1 was responding to a call for service regarding an apparent fight.
According to witnesses, the chopper spiraled and lost altitude, finally crashing into the waters between Lido and Balboa.
Joseph Thor witnessed the distressed chopper go down and talk to KTLA abut what he saw.
“I was barbecuing over on 26th street. You could see a helicopter spiraling, looked like it was losing a little bit of control and it kind of went out of the line of sight but you could see it was going down and apparently crashed in the water over there,” Thor said.
Multiple agencies immediately deployed to the scene and mounted a rescue operation.
“We had people there instantaneously,” Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis told the media. “We had rescue personnel that consisted of police officers, firefighters and lifeguards.”
Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team are investigating to determine the cause of the crash.