Man who died after jumping from helicopter had medical issue

Gregory McFadden, 61, in a DMV photo. McFadden plunged to his death Tuesday.
(DMV / AP Photo)

It was around lunchtime when patrons of the Ruby’s Diner perched near the end of the Balboa Pier looked up and saw what appeared to be a dummy plummeting from a passing helicopter and then heard it splash into the ocean.

As customers strained to get a look, rescuers who rushed to the shoreline made a grim discovery.

The object seen dropping from the sky Tuesday was actually the body of a man who had paid $310 for a tour of the Orange County coastline, only to tumble from the chopper’s door, falling 500 feet to the water below.


The passenger died a short time later at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach. Police believe that the midday incident was a suicide and that the man jumped from the tour helicopter as it glided along the coastline. Police and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating.

The passenger — 61-year-old Gregory McFadden — had been in poor health, a brother said Wednesday.

“He had a medical problem that people didn’t understand,” said Bradley McFadden, a former West Covina mayor and one of the man’s three brothers. “They didn’t think it was serious because it was very rare.”

Bradley McFadden said his brother had trouble sleeping and eating and was frustrated because he was having difficulty getting treatment.

On Tuesday, Gregory McFadden spent $310 to book a private scenic tour for two, but when he showed up at Fullerton Municipal Airport, he was alone, said Chuck Street, a longtime helicopter pilot whose son was flying the chopper.

Corbin Street, 25, took off with McFadden about 12:50 p.m. Tuesday and planned to follow a typical tour route toward Irvine, over Pelican Hill and then head north along the coast, Street said. About 15 minutes later, dispatchers received reports that someone had fallen, Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

Chuck Street — who updated local radio listeners with traffic reports for more than 25 years — owns Cardinal Air Services, which offers tours in conjunction with Anaheim Helicopters. He said the incident shocked him.

“It’s the last thing I ever thought would happen to my son,” Street said. “I’ve been flying for 35 years and I’ve logged over 27,000 hours, and it never happened to me.”

Ric Webb and Patti Taylor, co-owners of OC Helicopters, said a man who identified himself as Gregory McFadden had tried to book a 10-minute tour for Monday at noon, saying he would be bringing one or two friends.

When the man arrived alone at the company’s office near John Wayne Airport hours early for his flight, however, Webb said he got the sense that something seemed off.

Webb said he refused to take the man on a tour, and that the man continued to call back repeatedly, stressing that he might not have another opportunity to fly.

Bradley McFadden said he believed that his brother lived in Orange County, where he once enjoyed surfing. But he said he hadn’t talked with him in nearly two years.

“All I can say is that he was a good guy,” he said. “He was trying to get well and he couldn’t.”