Pilot of crashed Newport Beach police helicopter tried to keep it airborne before it fell into the sea, preliminary report says

The pilot attempted to keep the helicopter airborne before it fell into the sea off Newport Beach.

Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

The pilot of the police helicopter that crashed on February 19 in Newport Beach tried to keep it in the air until the last moment before crashing into the sea, an accident in which an officer diedl, investigators said Wednesday in a preliminary report.

Two officers from the Huntington Beach Police Department were responding to a report of a disturbance in the neighboring city of Newport Beach on the night of February 19. when the aircraft reported mechanical failure and fell into the sea between Lido Isle and Balboa Peninsula.

Some witnesses said that navigators who were near the scene rushed to rescue officers from the helicopterwhich was left upside down in shallow water.

The officer manning the helicopter was injured, but Nicholas Vella, 44, a 14-year veteran of the Huntington Beach Police Department, was killed in the crash..

Related: Huntington Beach Police honored officer killed in helicopter crash with service at Honda Center Anaheim

This Wednesday a preliminary report was presented by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)in which he mentions that the helicopter was flying about 500 feet above the scene and that the pilot had slowed down to keep a camera on focus when the aircraft suddenly banked aggressively to the right.

The pilot tried to correct and stop the rotation, but the helicopter began to descend in a spinthe report stated.

Investigators mentioned that Vella, who was the tactical flight officer, radioed to police.

“We are having some mechanical problems at the moment. We are going to fall, we are going to fall,” Vella said in the radio communication.

Related: Pilot of the accident police helicopter in Newport Beach reported mechanical failures moments before falling

Although helicopter blades can continue to rotate due to airflow with reduced or no engine power, a process known as autorotation, which is taught as an emergency maneuverthe pilot told investigators he wanted to keep the engine running because he was over a populated area.

“Because it was dark, I had no horizon or precise external reference, but I could see the lights of the houses that were approaching and felt that the impact was imminent,” the report said.

The report stated that the pilot reduced airspeed and then the helicopter hit the water on the right side, where Vella was.

“The pilot recalled a sudden crash and saw water and glass coming towards him as the cockpit shattered. He felt the rotor blades hit the water, everything stopped and within seconds he was submerged,” the report stated.

The researchers said that the pilot used a rescue air bottle to breathe and mentioned that he managed to get out of the helicopter before being rescued.

The cause of the accident to be determined when NTSB investigation is complete, which could take 12-18 monthsthe agency said.

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