Three people died and another two suffered injuries when a helicopter crashed into a house in Newport Beach, California, on Wednesday, January 30. The crash happened at around 1:45 p.m. after the Robinson R44 took off from John Wayne Airport. Although there was at least one person in the home at the time, none were injured. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are now investigating the crash, which involved a Robinson R44 helicopter that has had its share of crashes and controversy.
Robinson R44 Helicopter Crashed into Southern California Home
According to reports, the helicopter was headed to Catalina Island when it crashed shortly after it took off from John Wayne Airport, though it is not clear what caused the helicopter accident. What officials do know is that around 1:45 p.m., the Robinson R44 crashed into a home in a gated community in Newport Beach, coming to rest along the side of the house, with debris damaging at least one other nearby home.
Officials have begun confirming the tragedy’s victims. They include:
- Joseph Anthony Tena, 60, from Newport Beach
- Kimberly Lynn Watzman, 45, from Santa Monica
- Brian R. Reichelt, 56, of Hollywood, Florida
According to officials, all three people killed were onboard the helicopter and included the pilot and two passengers. A third passenger survived the crash and the person outside the house, a house painter, suffered minor injuries after being hit by debris.
The helicopter was reportedly on a personal flight and was not involved in training or sightseeing during the crash. Witnesses told officials that the R44 might have hit the roof of another house before crashing into the ground and sliding into a second home. The pilot did not issue a distress call.
3 people killed in Newport Beach helicopter crash identified
Witnesses Ran to Help Victims of Helicopter Crash in Newport Beach
Residents who lived near the crash ran outside when they heard the sound of a helicopter losing power, only to witness the tragedy. Some ran to help potential survivors, assisting the pilot in getting out of the helicopter.
“It was like a train hitting a wall,” Paddi Faubion, who lived nearby, told the Los Angeles Times. “You just knew something horrible had happened.” Faubion noted that the woman who lived in the house was in the kitchen when the helicopter crashed and was inconsolable. “I just put my hands on the side of the helicopter and prayed,” Faubion said.
“Everybody ran to see if we could help,” an unnamed resident told KTLA. “There were people over there helping open up the helicopter.”
Colleagues Remember Victims of Robinson Helicopter Accident
Both Watzman and Reichelt worked for The Standard Hotel. A statement from the company’s CEO expressed the company’s sadness at the tragedy.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of our friends,” said Amar Lalvani. “Our focus now is on supporting their loved ones and our team during this difficult time.”
Robinson R44 Was Leased to Revolution Aviation Flight School and Touring Company
The Robinson helicopter was registered to Spitzer Helicopter Leasing, who leased it to Revolution Aviation. Eric Spitzer, who runs Spitzer Helicopter Leasing, said his friend owns Revolution Aviation and was piloting the R44 when it crashed.
“I’m shocked because it just came out of getting updated avionics,” Spitzer said. He said that he wasn’t sure exactly what work was done on the helicopter.
UPDATE on Helicopter Crash – 4 passengers on board. Passengers are being assessed and transported for medical aid. It does not appear that any persons on the ground were involved. PIO responding to the scene.
The helicopter was built in 2003 by the Robinson Helicopter Co.
Robinson Helicopters Linked to Other Serious Incidents
In California and other parts of the world, Robinson Helicopters have been linked to serious accidents. According to the Los Angeles Times, this crash was the third crash in a year in Southern California involving a Robinson R44, including a crash landing and a hard landing. The other two accidents caused injuries but did not involve fatalities.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Robinson Helicopter Co. was added to the country’s “most pressing concerns” watch list in 2016, following repeated fatal helicopter crashes involving Robinson aircraft.
When the Transport Accident Investigation Commission announced the move regarding Robinson Helicopter Co., it noted that 14 mast bumping accidents in 20 years involving Robinson helicopters led to the decision. A total of 18 people died in those accidents.
Mast bumping occurs when an inner portion of the main rotor blade or rotor hub contacts the main rotor drive shaft. The TAIC notes that mast bumps are usually catastrophic because they often cause the helicopter to break apart. Certain situations, such as mountainous terrain and strong winds could increase the risk of a fatal mast bump.
Officials have not determined if a mast bump played a role in the helicopter crash in Newport Beach. Both the FAA and NTSB are investigating the crash.
Aviation Accident Attorneys
Attorneys at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have extensive experience investigating cases where aircraft have crashed into homes. Such crashes may be the result of improper aircraft maintenance, flawed aircraft design, or pilot error. Determining the exact cause of an aircraft crashing into a home can be complex as there are frequently many factors involved, but figuring out what happened is vital to ensuring victims and their families receive proper compensation and preventing such tragedies from happening again.
If you or a loved one is harmed by a plane or helicopter crashing into a home-either on the aircraft or on the ground, contact an experienced attorney at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman.