NEWPORT BEACH, CA (FOX 11/CNS) - Three people killed in the crash of a helicopter in a Newport Beach neighborhood were identified Wednesday while federal investigators continued what will be a months-long effort to determine what caused the aircraft to come down.
The people who died were identified as Brian R. Reichelt, 56, of Hollywood, Florida; Joseph Anthony Tena, 60, of Newport Beach; and Kimberly Lynne Watzman, 45, of Santa Monica.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Joshua Cawthra told reporters Wednesday morning that all three people who died were aboard the Robinson R44 helicopter that crashed about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday near Shearwater Place and Egret Court. A fourth person aboard the helicopter was seriously injured, while a bystander on the ground was also injured.
Cawthra said the helicopter pilot was killed, along with two passengers. He said there was no known distress call from the pilot prior to the crash. The helicopter was apparently being flown from John Wayne Airport to Catalina Island.
An official from Orange County Global Medical Center said one patient from the crash was listed in critical condition at the hospital.
Witnesses described a plume of smoke as the helicopter plunged to the ground. It appeared to clip the tile roof of one home, then skid along the ground through the residential intersection before smashing into a side wall of another home. The helicopter pushed in a master bedroom wall, and its tail section ended up in a side yard.
"We heard an engine, we thought it was a plane coming over our backyard, then we heard it make a puttering sound and then the engine cut out and stopped," said Christie McKenna. "It didn't sound like an explosion, it sounded like a really deep thud . One of my neighbors pulled one of the guys out of the helicopter and was trying to help him, he was laying on the grass, and then the passengers we could only see a pair of boots we couldn't see anybody else in it it was so damaged, a few minutes later they pulled a lady out and she passed away."
Patti Faubion, another witness, described a similar scene.
"It was more than a sputter, it's just like this impact, this loud sound, it sounded like a machine, like something was happening to a machine," she said. "I ran out to the balcony and looked down and saw the whole dust impact, so I ran out, your instinct is to help someone if you can, but there was no way, it was just so mangled, it's hard to believe anyone could have survived."
Witnesses told FOX 11 the bystander who was injured was a painter who was working on a house when scrap metal from the crash hit him in the back.
The helicopter is owned by Spitzer Helicopter LLC of Canyon Lake in Riverside County. The company's Eric Spitzer said he leased the 2003-model helicopter to John Wayne Airport-based Revolution Aviation.
According to the company's website, Revolution Aviation has been operating since the 1960s, offering pilot-training and sightseeing trips. The website boasts a 100 percent safety record.
"Although we anticipate that the NTSB's investigatory work at the crash scene will take several days to compete, residents of the neighborhood are able to access their homes,'' according to Newport Beach police.