14-year veteran of Huntington Beach PD killed in helicopter crash, 2nd released from hospital

"This is truly a heartbreaking time for all of us here at Huntington Beach," said Mayor Barbara Delgleize.
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A 14-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department was killed and another officer was critically injured after a police helicopter crashed near Newport Beach in Orange County 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.

"And after returning from that flight, the pilot reported that they were encountering mechanical difficulties," said Elliott Simpson, from the National Transportation Safety Board. "So a few seconds later, he transmitted that they were going down."

Nicholas Vella, 44, 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 wasn't immediately identified, but according to a tweet posted by HBPD Sunday morning, he has been released from the hospital.

"Thank you to our HB community & law enforcement family for the love & support you continue to show Officer Vella's family & our Department," read the tweet.

"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 a teenage daughter.

It's unclear who was piloting the aircraft at the time of the crash. One of the pilots was acting "as pilot in command, and the other acting as a tactical flight officer," Simpson said.

Video from Balboa Island shows emergency vehicles racing to the scene.

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A police helicopter has crashed in the waters off Newport Beach Saturday night.

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.

WATCH: Procession held for Huntington Beach officer killed in helicopter crash
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The video above shows the processional of police vehicles and motorcycles at the Orange County Global Medical Center shortly after the deadly helicopter crash.

"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 Eyewitness News 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."

The NTSB and the Orange County Sheriff's Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team are investigating the crash.

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