NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Three people were killed and two others were injured when a helicopter crashed into a house in a suburban Southern California neighborhood just a few minutes after taking off, officials said.
The helicopter hit a house in Newport Beach with such force that it was barely recognizable. The crushed metal sat in a heap on the side of the home, its tail rotor sticking out of the roof of a nearby home and a 6-foot chunk landing in the street in front of yet another house.
“All of a sudden the house just shook and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re having an earthquake,'” said Marian Michaels, who lives behind the home in a gated community where the helicopter crashed.
Roger Johnson was doing woodwork when he heard the chopping sound of a helicopter’s rotating blades and then a tremendous boom across the street.
“I turned to look out of the garage and that’s when I see this piece of metal flying through the air and hitting a bush and garage door,” Johnson said. “Then I heard someone scream — a real for-real horror scream, like something terrible had happened.”
The crash involved four people aboard the Robinson R44 helicopter and a bystander. All three people killed were in the helicopter, Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department identified those killed as Joseph Anthony Tena, 60, of Newport Beach, Kimberly Lynne Watzman, 45, of Santa Monica, and Brian Reichelt, 56, of Hollywood, Florida.
Watzman and Reichelt are friends on Facebook but their relationship is unclear.
David Henry, who lives a couple houses away from the crash site, said he heard the helicopter coming down and knew what it was because he crashed in three separate choppers when he served in Vietnam.
Henry was among those who initially tried to pull victims from the crash but thought better of it.
“They were just jammed in there like sardines,” Henry said. “We were pulling back the aluminum and we said, ‘We’d have to pull them up out of there’ and we could hear the paramedics coming.
“So we said, ‘We’re not going to touch them,'” he said. “We were afraid of hurting them worse.”
Henry said the crash terrified most everyone in the neighborhood.
“It scared the hell out of a lot of people here,” Henry said. “I was shaking like a dog afterward. It brings back some old memories.”
Audrey Ellis, who lives next to the house where the crash happened, was not home at the time but said her neighbors told her they were in the kitchen when the helicopter hit the bedroom of their house.
“It’s so scary,” Ellis said, adding that her neighbors weren’t hurt. “I’m so thankful.”
The aircraft had taken off from John Wayne Airport, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport is about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the crash site.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Messages seeking comment from Revolution Aviation, which is based at the airport and operated the helicopter, were not immediately returned.
The company offers helicopter and airplane classes, the use of aircraft for photography and video production, as well as sightseeing flights.
Eric Spitzer of Spitzer Helicopter, the aircraft’s owner, said he had leased the R44 to Revolution Aviation since April 2016.
He said the helicopter had just gotten updated equipment a week ago, though he didn’t have further details.
“Somebody called me and asked about the crash and I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” he said. “It was a nice helicopter, very well-maintained.”