Investigators are looking through mangled wreckage Wednesday in Newport Beach, where neighbors watched in horror as a helicopter crashed into a house just a few minutes after takeoff.
Three people were killed and two others were injured when the helicopter crashed into the house with such force that it was barely recognizable. The crushed metal sat in a heap on the side of the house, 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 in Newport Beach where the helicopter crashed.
Roger Johnson was doing some 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."
Johnson rushed to the wreckage and cautioned people to stop trying to pull out or move victims.
Four people were aboard the Robinson R44 helicopter when it went down. All four were among those killed or injured, and one person who was on the ground but outside of the house was also injured, Newport Beach fire and police officials said. They did not say which was which, or give any specifics about the injuries.
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 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 LLC, the aircraft's registered owner, told the Los Angeles Times that he had leased the R44 to Revolution Aviation since April 2016.
"I'm shocked because it just came out of getting updated avionics" a week ago, Spitzer said. He did not know exactly what that work entailed but said he paid for it.
Spitzer said that with three passengers aboard, the pilot was likely conducting a tour.