A southern California police officer is dead and a second is gravely injured following a helicopter crash south of Los Angeles, authorities said.
The police aircraft went down in Newport Beach’s harbor on Saturday evening, killing 44-year-old Huntington Beach Police Officer Nicholas Vellas, who was a married father. A second officer who was traveling with him was taken to a hospital and is in critical condition, police said at a press conference on Saturday. That officer was not immediately identified.
“This is a difficult night for all of us and I would ask for your prayers and your support as we support the officers’ family and as we continue to grieve,” Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra said at the press conference.
The officers were responding to a “disturbance fight call” along the beach, said Parra. Newport Beach Police Chief Jon T. Lewis said authorities’ emergency response to the helicopter crash came “instantaneously.”
The crash occurred just hours after a separate helicopter crash in Miami Beach, Florida. That incident, in which the descending aircraft came within yards of hitting beachgoers, reportedly left two of three passengers with broken backs. Video shared by the Miami Beach Police Department on Twitter shows the helicopter splashing down into the water as people dot the nearby sand and water.
Both incidents are under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, authorities said.
In the later Newport Beach crash, Parra said it’s not clear what “caused the aircraft to become disabled.” The police force’s helicopters, which regularly undergo maintenance, have been pulled for inspection before they will be used again, he said at the press conference.
“It’s a dangerous occupation, flying is extremely dangerous, law enforcement is extremely dangerous, so you can’t account for every mechanical issue and I don’t know that this was mechanical or not but I know it was a significant issue,” he said. “But we’ll find out what that issue was or issues were and we will resolve them so we don’t have similar future incidents.”