‘Heartbroken’ friends remember 3 killed in Newport helicopter crash
Friends and colleagues were shocked and saddened Wednesday by the “tragic loss” of three people killed when a helicopter crashed into a home in Newport Beach.
Joseph Anthony Tena, 60, of Newport Beach, Kimberly Lynne Watzman, 45, of Santa Monica and Brian Reichelt, 56, of Hollywood, Fla., died when a helicopter they were in crashed Tuesday, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Two other people were injured, authorities said.
Residents said a woman was in the kitchen of the home when the helicopter crashed, damaging a bedroom, but no one in the house was hurt.
Tena, Watzman and Reichelt were among four people aboard the Robinson R44 copter when it slammed into the home on Shearwater Place near Egret Court in the Bayview Terrace community, authorities said. Police responded to the crash about 1:50 p.m.
The four-seat helicopter went down shortly after taking off from John Wayne Airport on its way to Catalina Island, according to Joshua Cawthra, a senior investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The pilot and two passengers were killed, Cawthra said.
A third passenger was seriously injured and taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana in critical but stable condition, hospital spokesman Jeff Corless said.
A person on the ground suffered minor injuries and was treated at a hospital and released, authorities said.
Authorities would not confirm Wednesday who was flying the helicopter.
Tena, nicknamed “Pepe,” is the only person identified in the crash who had a pilot’s license, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. He received his private license for helicopters in August 2014.
Watzman and Reichelt worked for the Standard chain of boutique hotels, which has locations in West Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, a company representative said Wednesday.
Watzman was the general manager of the Standard hotel in West Hollywood. She had worked for the company for nearly 11 years.
Reichelt was the regional finance director for parent company Standard International since 2011.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of our friends,” said Amar Lalvani, chief executive of Standard International. “Our focus now is on supporting their loved ones and our team during this difficult time.”
The FAA and NTSB are investigating the crash. Cawthra said no distress call was made from the helicopter before it went down.
FAA records show the copter 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.
Investigators have determined the flight was not part of a class or sightseeing tour, Cawthra said.
Revolution Aviation had been leasing the aircraft — one of 85 helicopters in Spitzer’s fleet — since April 2016 and flew it regularly, he said.
Messages left with Revolution Aviation were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.
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 popular among flight schools, police departments, sightseeing companies, ranchers and recreational pilots.
Bayview Terrace resident Paddi Faubion said Tuesday that she was in her home when she heard a helicopter rotor struggling to turn, as though the aircraft was losing power. 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.”
Several neighbors rushed to the copter’s twisted wreckage, and two of them pulled out the pilot, Faubion said. Fuel spilled from the helicopter onto the street.
“I just put my hands on the side of the helicopter and prayed,” Faubion said.
Fry writes for Times Community News.
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