Calif. PD grounds its helicopters after crash-landing kills officer

Huntington Beach says it won't fly "out of an abundance of caution" until its other helicopters are fully inspected

By Josh Cain, Brian Rokos
The Orange County Register

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — With Huntington Beach grounding its two other police helicopters after Saturday’s crash of the third one into Newport Harbor, killing one pilot and injuring another, the Sheriff’s Department will step in and provide air patrols for four cities.

Besides serving its city, Huntington Beach is under contracts to provide air patrols for Irvine, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach as well. For now, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which uses different types of helicopters than Huntington Beach, will assist the cities from the air.

“We will always help out when we’re needed,” said Sgt. Todd Hylton, a sheriff’s spokesman, said on Monday, Feb. 21.

[EARLIER COVERAGE: Pilot reported issues before deadly Calif. police helicopter crash]

Huntington Beach’s two other helicopters, also McDonnell Douglas 500N aircraft, will stay on the city’s landing pad until they’re fully inspected, said Jennifer Carey, a police spokeswoman.

“We aren’t flying right now,” she said. “There’s no reason to believe that there are any issues with our remaining two helicopters, but we’re grounding them out of an abundance of caution.”

The city is still deciding who will inspect the other two helicopters. Huntington Beach police have several helicopter mechanics on staff, but the city could hire out the job to independent inspectors.

“We’re not sure if (the mechanics) feel comfortable doing that,” Carey said. “They were very close with the pilots.”

The 6:34 p.m. Saturday crash killed 44-year-old Officer Nicholas Vella. The helicopter took off from near the Huntington Beach Sports Complex about a half hour earlier before responding to Newport Beach for a fight reported on the Balboa Peninsula. After hovering over Balboa Boulevard, the helicopter suddenly went into the harbor waters at the southernmost tip of the Lido Peninsula.

The injured officer left the hospital on Sunday. It had not been released yet which officer was at the helm. Both were certified pilots.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what happened. An investigator has said the two pilots reported mechanical problems with the helicopter just before the crash.

The helicopter had been in service since 1998, and was last certified in 2016, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The other two helicopters were purchased new in 2001 and in 2007, the records show.

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