Plaque commemorates Huntington Beach police officer killed in helicopter crash a year ago – Orange County Register

NEWPORT BEACH — Officials unveiled a plaque at Marina Park on Sunday commemorating the first anniversary of the death of Huntington Beach Police Officer Nicholas Vella, who was killed in a helicopter crash while patrolling Newport Beach.

“A year has passed and there are still no words that can adequately express this loss,” said Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra. “We will always remember Nick that day. He was a selfless and motivated officer that we were blessed to have known.”

Vella was in the Huntington Beach Police Helicopter HB-1 responding to a call on Feb. 19, 2022, when the helicopter crashed into the water off Newport Beach. The initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board describes how Villa and the pilot were on a routine patrol over Newport Beach around 6:30 p.m. when they responded to a combat call. The two flew over the scrum area and turned on an infrared camera.

Vella spotted the fighting group “and the pilot began maneuvering the helicopter into a closer right orbit while (Vella) relayed his observations over the police radio channel,” according to the NTSB report.

Officials on the ground arrived as the helicopter continued to circle about 500 feet above him.

“The pilot said he saw ground police officers get out of their car and approach the group, which by that time had mostly dispersed,” the NTSB reported. “He was concerned that one of the group would start fighting an officer and he slowed the helicopter down to keep the camera on the scene longer so they wouldn’t lose sight of them behind a building.”

But the NTSB reported, “Suddenly the helicopter yawd aggressively to the right, and he immediately pressed the full left foot pedal and cycled forward to try to stop the rotation, but there was no response.”

The pilot continued to try to correct the helicopter, but it “began to enter a whirling descent,” the NTSB said.

Vella “transmitted over the police radio channel, ‘We’re having some mechanical trouble right now,’ followed by ‘We’re going down, we’re going down.’ “

The helicopter’s spin “became more aggressive as” it crashed to the ground and the pilot struggled to correct this, “which appeared to be partially effective but did not stop the spin,” the NTSB said.

The pilot said “the engine was running continuously, and his goal was to continue flying the helicopter with the engine running, rather than reducing power and autorotating to a populated area,” the NTSB said.

The darkness obscured the horizon and a precise point of reference, “but he could see the lights of the approaching houses and sensed an impact was imminent, so he pulled collective control to slow the airspeed,” the NTSB reported.

The helicopter slammed into the sea “hard in a downward right turn” on Vella’s side, the NTSB reported.

“The pilot recalled a sudden impact and saw water and glass coming towards him as the canopy shattered. He felt the rotor blades hit the water, then everything stopped and within seconds he was under water.”

The pilot managed to breathe through the mouthpiece of his rescue air tank as he unbuckled his seat belt and pushed himself out of the wreck to swim to the surface. Onlookers helped pull him to a boat.

Vella began his career as a law enforcement officer with the Laguna Beach Police Department and transferred to the Huntington Beach Police Department in 2008. At the HBPD, he worked in a variety of roles including patrol, beach command, SWAT and as a tactical flight officer.

In 2016, Vella was assigned to the Air Support Unit, where he earned the positions of Police Helicopter Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor.

“While I did not have the privilege of meeting Nick, the many stories I have heard of his dedication to our city, his family and his brothers and sisters in law enforcement make it clear what a great father, husband, son , friend and officer he was,” Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland said Sunday.

“The City of Newport Beach is honored to celebrate the life and sacrifice of Officer Pilot Vella,” said Newport Beach Mayor Noah Blom. “His courage and bravery will be remembered forever.”

Vella is survived by his wife Kristi, daughter Dylan, father John, mother Marcella and brother John Arthur. The Officer Nicholas Vella Memorial Highway, a roughly three-mile stretch of Beach Boulevard, also pays tribute to Vella. Plaque commemorates Huntington Beach police officer killed in helicopter crash a year ago – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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