Newport Beach: Officer Killed, Another Rescued After Police Helicopter Crash

02.19.2022 | 6:34 PM | NEWPORT BEACH – One officer was killed and another was injured after a police helicopter crashed into the Newport Bay while responding to a call, Saturday night.

The helicopter crash was reported in the Newport Bay near Marina Park at the intersection of Beach Drive and Channel Road on the Lido Peninsula around 6:34 PM.

When crews arrived on scene they located a Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter, a 1998 McDonnell Douglas MD500N helicopter with the callsign HB-1, that had crashed into the water.

With the help of good Samaritans, first responders rescued the 50-year-old RJ Garwood, the helicopter’s pilot, before rushing him to UCI Medical Center where he was in stable condition.

Officials described Garwood as a 16-year veteran of the department and said he was released from the hospital shortly after.

A second officer from the helicopter, 44-year-old Nicholas Vella, was also pulled from the helicopter by rescue swimmers and transported to OC Global Medical Center.

Despite the efforts of first responders Officer Vella succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased. He was a 14-year veteran of the department and leaves behind a wife and daughter.

The airship was responding to reports of a fight-in-progress at the intersection of Balboa Boulevard and 18th Street shortly before the crash.

Bystander video shows the helicopter at a low altitude before plunging into the water.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Accident Reconstruction Team are investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Miles Madison

Miles started reporting breaking news in 2015 and has been providing high-quality news video and timely reports from the Orange County area ever since. Combining his experience as a seasoned photojournalist, radio operator and sleuth, Miles provides unrivaled multimedia news reports.