Calif. officer dies when police helicopter crash-lands off beach

Nicholas Vella, 44, died and his co-pilot was in critical condition

Duty Death: Nicholas Vella - [Huntington Beach, California]

End of Service: 02/19/2022


By Hunter Lee, Caitlin Antonios
Los Angeles Daily News

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — A Huntington Beach police helicopter “crash-landed” in the water in Newport Beach on Saturday evening and a rescue operation was launched, officials said. One pilot died and another was injured.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Ryan Anderson said that agency assisted, deploying resources to assist with a rescue. The Newport Beach Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority also were on scene.

There were two pilots aboard the helicopter, said Jennifer Carey, a spokesperson for the Huntington Beach Police Department. One was initially reported as having moderate injuries and the other serious injuries, Carey said. Later, it was announced a 14-year veteran officer had died. He was identified as Nicholas Vella, 44. His co-pilot, a 16-year veteran,  was in critical condition, Huntington Beach Police said.

Police Chief Eric Parra said the department’s helicopters would be grounded for inspections.

“We need to have the current aircraft inspected to make sure there’s nothing wrong…we’re going to pull those in — they won’t fly until we do the inspection,” Parra said.

The crash happened near the shore in an area between the Lido and Balboa peninsulas.

The crash occurred at 6:34 p.m., a Newport Beach Fire Department dispatcher told City News Service.

CBS LA posted video of an officer being pulled from the water.

“We had people there instantaneously,” said Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis. “We had rescue personal that consisted of police officers, firefighters and lifeguards.”

A witness, Joseph Thor, told KTLA 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.

Larry Sato told NBC Los Angeles his party was waiting to be seated for dinner when it happened.

“We were waiting for a table at The Crab Cooker (restaurant) and we saw the helicopter circle around a couple times and they kept getting lower and then suddenly we saw the lights just twirling. It went behind the building and we never saw the impact,” Sato said. “It was frightening.”

People who saw the helicopter go down were screaming, said a woman with Sato who was also interviewed by NBC LA.

Saturday’s crash stirred memories of the March 1987 crash of a Costa Mesa police helicopter that killed two Costa Mesa officers aboard. It crashed after colliding with a Newport Beach police helicopter over Irvine while they pursued a suspected car thief.

And earlier Saturday, a helicopter crashed into ocean waters off Miami Beach close to swimmers. Two people were hurt.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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