The Orange County coroner has identified the man who jumped 500 feet to his death from a helicopter as it flew over the Newport Beach shoreline Tuesday afternoon.
Gregory McFadden, 61, of West Covina, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after opening the helicopter door and leaping out, falling about 500 feet to the ocean.
Newport Beach police are investigating McFadden’s death as a possible suicide. The Orange County coroner’s office reported that McFadden “jumped from a helicopter in-flight” and the Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the incident.
McFadden had apparently booked a 30-minute coastal tour for two people but showed up alone, said Chuck Street, a longtime helicopter pilot whose son was flying the chopper. McFadden paid $310 in advance for the flight.
At about 12:45 p.m., Street’s son, Corbin, took off with McFadden from Fullerton Airport, planning to follow a typical path toward Irvine, over Pelican Hill and north along the coast, Street said.
About 15 minutes later, dispatchers received reports that someone had fallen from a helicopter near the Balboa Pier, said Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella.
Street said he has yet to speak with his son at length but that police led him to believe that a struggle had occurred in which his son tried to restrain McFadden as he tried to jump out the door.
A police helicopter spotted McFadden in the water about 15 yards from the sand, officials said.
Lifeguard John Moore, who helped pull McFadden from the water, said the man was unconscious when rescuers reached him. McFadden was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Street — who updated local radio listeners with traffic reports for more than 25 years — owns Cardinal Air Services, which offered the tour.
He said the incident shocked him.
“It’s the last thing I ever thought would happen to my son,” Street said.
Fullerton Municipal Airport Manager Brendan O’Reilly said that the helicopter, a Robinson Helicopter R44, was based at the airport.
Its operators, he said, had “an excellent safety record.”
Companies that offer chartered scenic tours are “really common,” O’Reilly said, adding that several such operations fly out of Fullerton, the last general aviation airport in Orange County.