Family members and colleagues paid tribute Tuesday to a Huntington Beach officer killed when a police helicopter crashed last month in shallow water off the Southern California coast.
Officer Nicholas Vella, 44, was killed in the Feb. 19 crash in Newport Beach. Another officer was pulled from the wreckage and has since been released from a hospital.
Vella was an 18-year law enforcement veteran with 14 years on the force in Huntington Beach. Prior to joining Huntington Beach's department he worked in Laguna Beach.
He is survived by his wife and teenage daughter. Thousands of friends, relatives and co-workers packed into Honda Center today to say farewell at Tuesday's memorial service.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers took part in an early morning procession, escorting Vella's body from Huntington Beach to Anaheim for the service, which was closed to the public but streamed online by the city so residents could pay their respects.
Dozens of people lined the streets to watch the solemn procession pass by as it made its way to Honda Center. Some held up signs of signs of support, some saying just ``Thank you.''
"I met Nick, but I didn't know Nick because I've only been here, it's my third month in Huntington Beach as the chief,'' HBPD Chief Eric Parra said during the service. ``So I started to get familiar with him. So I asked my aide to get me his personnel file. And I'm reading them -- every single one -- `This is the greatest guy, he's got the best communication style, he's going to do whatever he wants in this department, he's a leader, he exemplifies courage.' He's all of these things that are very positive in every single evaluation.''
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The helicopter crash occurred as Vella and his partner -- a 16-year department veteran -- were responding to a call for assistance from the Newport Beach Police Department. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, the pilot radioed that the helicopter was having mechanical problems shortly before it plunged into the ocean water.
The aircraft landed in the water between Balboa Island and Lido Isle.
Lifeguards and rescue personnel rushed to the scene and could be seen pulling the two occupants from the submerged aircraft.