Man who jumped to death from helicopter in Newport Beach identified

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. 

About 12:45 p.m., Street's son, Corbin, took off with McFadden from Fullerton Municipal 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 had not yet spoken with his son at length but said that conversations with police led him to believe that a struggle had occurred during which his son tried to grab McFadden, ripping his shirt as he pushed himself out the door.

Patrons of Ruby's Diner at the end of the pier watched as police in a helicopter helped find McFadden in the water about 15 yards from the sand, officials said. Rescuers were able to bring him ashore.

Lifeguard John Moore, who helped pull the man from the water, said he was unconscious when rescuers reached him.

Newport Beach Lifeguard Cpt. Josh van Egmond and Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Damien Crowson also helped with the rescue, Lifeguard Battalion Chief Jim Turner said.

Rescuers administered CPR on the beach before McFadden was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition, authorities said.

Chuck Street — who has updated local radio listeners with traffic conditions 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."

Fullerton Municipal Airport Manager Brendan O'Reilly said the helicopter, a Robinson R44, was based at the airport.

Its operators, he said, had "an excellent safety record."

Companies that offer scenic tours are "really common," O'Reilly said, adding that several operate out of Fullerton, the only entirely general aviation airport in Orange County.

"It's just one of those weird things," he said.

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