14-year veteran officer killed in police helicopter crash in California

The pilot killed was a 14-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department, 44-year-old Nicholas Vella.

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Sunday, February 20, 2022
Police helicopter crashes in water off SoCal coast, 1 pilot killed
A police helicopter crashed in the waters off Newport Beach in southern California on Saturday night, fatally injuring one of the pilots.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- A 14-year veteran police officer was killed and another officer was injured after a police helicopter crashed near Newport Beach in southern California's Orange County on Saturday night, authorities said.

The helicopter crash-landed at about 6:30 p.m. while responding to a disturbance near Newport Beach, according to police.

Nicholas Vella, 44, with the Huntington Beach Police Department, died in the crash, Chief Eric Parra announced during a news conference Saturday night.

The second officer, who is a 16-year veteran with the department, was taken to the hospital in critical condition. He was released from hospital on Sunday morning.

He wasn't identified but during Saturday night's news conference, Parra said he's doing OK.

"The city of Huntington Beach, the residents of Huntington Beach, the Huntington Beach Police Department and the law enforcement community have lost an officer who was truly dedicated to his job and was doing what he loved doing," Parra 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."

Vella leaves behind a wife and daughter. It's unclear who was piloting the aircraft at the time.

Late Saturday night, a procession was held for Vella in Santa Ana.

Hundreds of police officers were saluting outside of Orange County Global Medical Center as his body was being taken to the coroner's office.

"This is truly a heartbreaking time for all of us here at Huntington Beach," said Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize. "Our community values our police department, and the loss of an officer hits us all really hard. This tragic accident serves as a reminder of the danger, and the risks, our police officers put themselves in on a daily basis to protect our community."

Meanwhile, several witnesses recalled hearing the helicopter crash.

"We have a lot of helicopters flying around, but this had a higher pitch to it," one witness said. "It didn't sound right. I looked outside and saw it going in circles."

One woman told us she saw the helicopter spinning and descending rapidly into the water.

"All of a sudden, I hear something sputtering really close, and it didn't sound like a normal helicopter," she said. "Somehow, he managed to get it into the bay to save everybody's life. If he had landed on a house, there would be a lot of casualties. I feel very fortunate."

On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement on the death of Officer Nicholas Vella.

"Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Officer Vella. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the entire Huntington Beach Police Department. Officer Vella's bravery and commitment to protecting his community will not be forgotten."

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Orange County Sheriff's Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team are investigating the crash.