Pilot Reported Mechanical Issues Before OC Helicopter Crash That Killed One Cop

Authorities are investigating the helicopter crash that killed officer Nicholas Vella in Newport Beach Saturday
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Authorities are investigating a helicopter crash that killed one police officer and injured another Saturday in Newport Beach.

Officer Nicholas Vella, who was a 14-year-veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department, died in the crash, according to authorities. A second officer, who has only been identified as a 50-year-old man and 16-year veteran of the department, was released from the hospital Sunday morning, police said.

The helicopter crashed about 6:30 p.m. Saturday when the two officers were responding to a disturbance call in the neighboring city of Newport Beach, the Huntington Beach Police Department said in a statement. Multiple civilians, along with public safety personnel, jumped into the water to rescue the officers from the craft, which landed upside down in shallow water. Both officers were pulled from the helicopter and transported to area hospitals.

Video footage from a nearby resident shows the craft spinning and losing altitude before crashing into the waters off Newport Harbor, KTLA reports.

Investigators have determined which officer was the pilot of the helicopter, but have not yet publicly released that information, Jennifer Carey, the department’s spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.

An investigator with the NTSB photographs the wreckage of a Huntington Beach Police helicopter in Newport Beach on Sunday, February 20, 2022. The crashed killed Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran of the force. (Photo by Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

The NTSB is the lead agency investigating the crash, which could take 12 to 18 months, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Accident Reconstruction Team will be conducting its own investigation.

The pilot made a brief call to report that the helicopter was experiencing mechanical issues shortly before it crashed, before calling again to say that they were going to crash, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Elliott Simpson during a Sunday news conference. “Right now, it appears to be a nose-down descent into the water,” Simpson added, according to the Times.

“We look at not only what happened but we try to figure out why it happened,” NTSB spokesperson Eric Weiss told the Times, noting that the agency’s investigative process considers human, machine, and environmental factors. “By figuring out why it happened, you can maybe prevent future accidents.”

The Huntington Beach Police Department has three helicopters and typically operates one of them 24 hours a day, the Times reports. The two other aircraft won’t fly until they are inspected and the preliminary investigation is completed, Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra said.

Vella, the fallen officer, was honored Sunday with a midnight procession of law enforcement officers escorting his body to the Orange County coroner’s office, City News Service reports. He is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Parra described 44-year-old Vella as being “truly dedicated to his job” and said he “loved what he was doing.”

“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.”

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 at 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.”


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