Procession of officer killed in helicopter crash brings out hundreds of mourners – Orange County Register

A motorcade of Huntington Beach police cruisers and motorcycle officers escorted the body of Officer Nicholas Vella, a pilot who died Saturday when his helicopter plunged into Newport Harbor, from the Orange County Coroner’s Office at a morgue in La Habra on Tuesday afternoon.

A brief cold downpour soaked several hundred mourners — including Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, District Attorney Todd Spitzer and dozens of officers from police departments across the county — who lined up on along Shelton Street just outside the coroner’s office to pay their respects around 1 p.m.

After Vella’s family walked out of the office, several openly weeping, a piper escorted their cars down the street as the sun rose.

The motorcade headed north on Highway 57 toward the Community Funeral Service on Beach Boulevard in La Habra.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Ann Flores, a local resident who stood in the neighborhood just west of the coroner’s office to watch the proceedings.

Vella died on Saturday when his helicopter crashed in the waters just off the southern tip of the Lido Peninsula in Newport Harbour.

He and another officer inside the department’s McDonnell Douglas 500N helicopter were in the air for about half an hour before they got the call to head to the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach for a combat report .

Just minutes after arriving in the area and hovering over Balboa Boulevard, their helicopter descended rapidly into the harbor.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator said Sunday that one of them reported mechanical problems just before the crash.

An official cause of the crash, however, has yet to be released. The NTSB’s investigation into the crash could last between a year and 18 months, officials said.

Steven Booth stood in a nearby corner as the motorcade prepared to leave. Next to him was Henry, a calm and friendly golden retriever with a ginger coat, lying on the sidewalk at his feet.

Henry, a crisis comfort K9 for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, wore his forest green vest with his name embroidered on it. Henry and Booth, his manager and a retired employee of the Sheriff’s Department, witnessed many scenes of trauma affecting local police departments.

“Our job is just to bring people a little comfort during a difficult time — that can mean listening to them or catching a few tears,” Booth said as a group of deputies stroked Henry.

Vella’s death particularly hit the Huntington Beach police. Highly specialized units like air services are known to foster a deep sense of community among their members.

“They’re a very tight group,” Booth said.

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