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.
It is with tremendous sorrow that we announce the passing of Officer Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran of HBPD. Officer Vella died this evening after our police helicopter, HB-1, crashed into the waters off Newport while responding to a call for service. (1 of 3) pic.twitter.com/mxulAf248Q— Huntington Beach PD (@HBPoliceDept) February 20, 2022
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.
We wanted to inform everyone that the second officer involved in last night’s crash has since been released from the hospital.— Huntington Beach PD (@HBPoliceDept) February 20, 2022
Thank you to our HB community & law enforcement family for the love & support you continue to show Officer Vella’s family & our Department. pic.twitter.com/sTmGarGts6
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.
The NTSB is investigating the crash Sunday of a McDonnell Douglas MD 500N helicopter in Newport Beach, California.— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) February 20, 2022