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Pilot reported issues before deadly Calif. police helicopter crash

Officer Nicholas Vella died and a second officer was injured in the crash-landing

helicopter crash newport beach california

A Huntington Beach Police helicopter is lifted out of the water in Newport Beach, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022. A

Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP

By Associated Press

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — A pilot reported mechanical issues shortly before a police helicopter crashed nose first along the Southern California coast, killing one officer, authorities said Sunday.

A Huntington Beach officer who was injured in the crash Saturday was released from a hospital Sunday morning, police said. Authorities haven’t identified the officer or detailed his injures, but police spokeswoman Jennifer Carey told the Orange County Register that officials “are optimistic about his recovery.”

Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran, died in the crash, police Chief Eric Parra said Saturday night. Vella, 44, leaves behind behind a wife and daughter.

The two officers were responding to a disturbance in the neighboring city of Newport Beach around 6:30 p.m. Saturday when the aircraft crashed in a narrow strip of water in Newport Bay between Lido Isle and the Balboa Peninsula. Witnesses said boaters rushed to pull the officers out of the helicopter, which landed upside down in shallow water.

The pilot made a brief call to report that the helicopter was experiencing mechanical issues, before calling again to say that they were going to crash, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Elliott Simpson during a Sunday news conference.

Simpson said preliminary reports are that the helicopter made “a nose-down descent into the water,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Crews used a crane to hoist the damaged helicopter from the shallow water on Sunday.

The cause of the crash will be determined at the end of the NTSB’s investigation, which could take 12 to 18 months, the agency said.

It wasn’t immediately clear which officer was piloting the helicopter.

Dozens of officers and first responders formed a line Saturday night outside the hospital to salute Vella’s casket as it was escorted to the Orange County coroner’s office.

Vella “was truly dedicated to his job and was doing what he loved doing,” the chief said.

“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 has three helicopters and typically keeps one in operation 24 hours a day. The two other aircraft will be grounded pending an inspection and the preliminary investigation, Parra said.