Law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California, including San Diego, sent condolences to the Huntington Beach Police Department Sunday after an officer died in a helicopter crash.
Investigators were trying to determine what led to the crash, which occurred at 6:34 p.m. Saturday as Helicopter HB-1 responded to a call for assistance from the Newport Beach Police Department involving a fight near 18th Street and Balboa Boulevard.
Nicholas Vella, 44, died from injuries sustained in the crash, an emotional Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra announced Saturday during a 10 p.m. news conference.
Vella, a 14-year veteran of the department, was “truly dedicated to his job (and) loved what he was doing,” the chief said.
A midnight procession of law enforcement officers escorted Vella’s body to the Orange County coroner’s office. He is survived by his wife and a daughter.
A second officer aboard the helicopter, who is 50 and a 16-year veteran, was hospitalized but later released, the department tweeted Sunday.
“This is a difficult night for all of us,” Parra said, “and I would ask for your prayers and your support as we support our officer’s family and as we continue to grieve through this.”
It was unclear who was piloting the helicopter or what caused it to crash.
The accident was being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team.
The Huntington Beach Police Department Air Support Unit serves that city along with Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
The helicopter crash-landed in the waters between Balboa Island and Lido Isle. Video from the scene showed lifeguards and police officers pulling two people from the wreckage and several bystanders jumping in to help.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the following statement Sunday: “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.”
Police and sheriff’s departments, along with fire departments, sent their condolences, including agencies in San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange and Riverside counties.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit tweeted: “We are saddened to hear about the passing of Officer Vella. Our thoughts are with @HBPoliceDept during this difficult time. We pray that the second officer recovers from their injuries.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department sent “our deepest condolences to our friends @HBPoliceDept over the death of Officer Nicholas Vella.”
Carlsbad police officials tweeted: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you @HBPoliceDept during this time of of great loss and sorrow” with the hashtag #united.