A helicopter with four people onboard crashed into a Newport Beach home Tuesday afternoon, killing three people and injuring two others, authorities said.
It wasn't clear whether all the fatalities were on the helicopter. Newport Beach police said a pedestrian on the ground was involved in the crash, though a photographer at the scene said the bystander appeared to have suffered minor injuries.
The four-seat Robinson R44 crashed under unknown circumstances after it departed from John Wayne Airport, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
Police responded to the crash at about 1:50 p.m. in the 40 block of Egret Court near Shearwater Place in a gated neighborhood near the Back Bay known as Bayview Terrace, officials said.
Resident Paddi Faubion said she was inside her home when she heard a helicopter rotor struggling to turn. The aircraft sounded as though it was losing power, she said. She ran to her balcony and watched as the copter clipped the roof of a neighbor's home and slammed into the side of another, sending up a plume of dust.
"It was like a train hitting a wall," Faubion said. "You just knew something horrible had happened."
A woman was in the home's kitchen when the helicopter crashed, damaging a bedroom, Faubion said.
"She was inconsolable," Faubion said.
Several neighbors rushed to the copter's twisted wreckage, and two of them pulled out the pilot, Faubion said. His mouth was bloodied and he looked extremely pale, she said.
Fuel rushed from the helicopter onto the street, according to neighbors.
"I just put my hands on the side of the helicopter and prayed," Faubion said.
Newport Beach Mayor Marshall "Duffy" Duffield, who represents the City Council district that includes Bayview Terrace, said his son, a commercial helicopter pilot, told him about the crash. Both were in Duffield's office afterward listening intently to radio traffic.
"It's quite a tight-knit fraternity," Duffield said of copter pilots.
FAA records show the helicopter was registered to Spitzer Helicopter LLC in Canyon Lake in Riverside County.
Eric Spitzer of Spitzer Helicopter said he leased the R44 to Revolution Aviation, a flight school and touring company at John Wayne Airport.
"I'm shocked because it just came out of getting updated avionics" a week ago, Spitzer said, though he didn't know exactly what that entailed. "I paid the bill."
Spitzer said that with three passengers aboard, the pilot, a friend of his who owns the aviation company, was likely conducting a tour.
Revolution Aviation had been leasing the aircraft — one of 85 helicopters in Spitzer's fleet — since April 2016 and flew it regularly, he said.
A message left with Revolution Aviation was not immediately returned.
The copter was manufactured in 2003 by Robinson Helicopter Co., based in Torrance. The family-owned company's two-seat R22 and four-seat R44 are among the most popular civilian helicopters in the world and are a top choice for flight schools, police departments, sightseeing companies, ranchers and recreational pilots.
Tuesday's crash was at least the third serious accident in Southern California in the past year involving an R44, according to NTSB records.
In May, the pilot and two passengers aboard an R44 suffered serious injuries when it crash-landed on a golf course maintenance yard near Santa Barbara.
Two months later, an R44 lost power and landed hard on a city street in Sherman Oaks, injuring the pilot and three passengers.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the helicopter.
5:05 p.m.: This article was updated with Paddi Faubion's account.
4:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the helicopter owner.
3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.