Police Helicopter Goes Down in Sea, Killing Officer

Boaters hurried to rescue 2 officers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 20, 2022 3:05 PM CST
Police Helicopter Crash Off California Coast Kills Officer
Huntington Beach Police officer Nicholas Vella was killed when a police helicopter hit the water.   (Huntington Beach Police Department via AP)

Authorities on Sunday were investigating the cause of a police helicopter crash off the Southern California coast that left one officer dead and another hospitalized with critical injuries. The Huntington Beach officers were responding to a disturbance in the neighboring city of Newport Beach around 6:30pm Saturday when the helicopter hit a narrow strip of water between Lido Isle and the Balboa Peninsula. Witnesses said boaters who saw the helicopter go down rushed to the wreckage to pull the officers out, the AP reports.

Nicholas Vella, 44, a 14-year veteran with the police department, died in the crash, Chief Eric Parra said at a Saturday night news conference. He leaves behind behind a wife and daughter. 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 second officer, who is a 16-year veteran of the department, was taken to the hospital in critical condition, "but he is feeling OK," Parra said. It wasn't immediately clear who was piloting the helicopter.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Orange County Sheriff's Department are investigating the crash. A witness told KCAL-TV he saw the helicopter struggling moments before the crash. "We were driving over here, and we heard the pitch of the helicopter and it sounded like the helicopter was in distress," said the witness. "When we looked at the helicopter it was out of control. It was obvious the helicopter was gonna go down. It did go down, and almost immediately sunk."

(More helicopter crash stories.)

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