Huntington Beach police helicopter crashes in Newport Beach
NEWPORT BEACH (KUSI) – Investigators Sunday are trying to determine what lead to the crash of a Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter that killed a 14-year veteran officer and left another hospitalized in critical condition.
Nicholas Vella, 44, died from injuries sustained in the crash, an emotional Huntington Beach police Chief Eric Parra announced Saturday during a 10 p.m. news conference. Vella was a 14-year veteran of the department and was “truly dedicated to his job (and) loved what he was doing,” the chief said.
The other officer, who is 50 and a 16-year veteran of the department, was hospitalized in critical condition “but doing OK,” Parra said. His name was not released.
“This is a difficult night for all of us,” Parra said, “and I would ask for your prayers and your support as we support our officer’s family and as we continue to grieve through this.”
Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize called the crash “heartbreaking” for the entire city.
“Our community values our police department and the loss of an officer hits us all really hard,” Delgleize said during the news conference. “This tragic accident serves as a reminder of the danger and the risk that our police officers put themselves in on a daily basis to protect our community.”
It was unclear who was piloting the helicopter or what caused it to crash.
Parra said the crash was being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team.
Parra said the department’s remaining aircraft will not fly again until they are inspected to determine whether mechanical issues were a factor.
“We need to have the current aircraft inspected to make sure there’s nothing wrong,” Parra said. “We’re going to pull those in — they won’t fly until we do the inspection.”
The crash occurred at 6:34 p.m., a Newport Beach Fire Department dispatcher told City News Service.
Helicopter HB-1 was responding to a call for assistance from the Newport Beach Police Department involving a fight near 18th Street and Balboa Boulevard, Jennifer Carey, the HBPD’s public information officer said.
The Huntington Beach Police Department Air Support Unit serves that city along with Newport Beach and Costa Mesa under contracts with those two cities.
The helicopter crash landed in the waters between Balboa Island and Lido Isle. Video from the scene showed the wreckage in water at the shoreline. CBS2/KCAL9 showed video of lifeguards and police officers rescuing the two people from the wreckage.
Several bystanders also jumped into the water to help the stranded helicopter.
The HBPD website described the helicopter as an air support unit. “We operate three MD 520N series turbine-powered helicopters out of our facility.”
Vella was honored with a midnight procession of law enforcement officers escorting his body to the coroner’s office. He is survived by his wife and a daughter.