Victims Identified in Newport Beach Helicopter Crash

The helicopter slammed into a house Tuesday afternoon shortly after takeoff from John Wayne Airport

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. Watzman worked as the general manager of The Standard hotel in West Hollywood.

Reichelt worked for The Standard in Miami as a regional finance director "It was an honor to be her brother for my 40 years," Watzman's brother, Ryan, said. "... I plan on doing my best to honor her and find out what happened."

Ryan Watzman said his sister dropped off her dog, Harley, at their parents' house in Marina del Rey Tuesday morning, telling them she was taking a day trip to Catalina Island.

Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International, issued a statement saying, "We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of our friends. Our focus now is on supporting their loved ones and our team during this difficult time."

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. A woman who lives nearby said it "sounded like a train coming through."

She got to the scene and said she "saw one man out, I'm not sure if he fell out, and there was body parts ..." She said she put her hand on the wreckage and prayed for the victims. The woman said the residents of the house that was struck were at home, but they were in another part of the residence and were unharmed. 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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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