Friends, family members and colleagues gathered in Huntington Beach Sunday morning to witness the unveiling of a memorial plaque to honor the life of Nicholas Vella, a Huntington Beach Police Department officer who died one year ago in a helicopter crash.

Vella, a 14-year veteran of the department, was riding in the helicopter with another officer as they headed to a “priority call” for a disturbance in Newport Beach. At some point during the flight, the pilot reported experiencing mechanical issues and the helicopter went down into Newport Harbor.

A second officer suffered serious injuries, but survived the crash.

Vella was 44 at the time of his death, leaving behind a wife and a teenage daughter.

The Police Department remembered Vella as a “selfless and driven police officer and man.”

On the one-year anniversary of his death, officers from the Huntington Beach and Newport Beach police departments unveiled a memorial plaque in Marina Park to honor the fallen officer.

Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland said the community takes “great pride” in the police department and their work in the surrounding community. While never meeting Vella, Strickland said that he has heard many stories about his dedication to the city and his loved ones.

“His law enforcement brothers and sisters make clear what a tremendous father, husband,
son, friend, and officer he was,” Strickland said.

Newport Beach Mayor Noah Blom added that Vella’s “bravery and valor” will be long remembered.

  • Nick Vella's widow, Kristi, stands beside his memorial plaque at Marina Park along with HBPD chief Eric Parra and NBPD chief Joe Cartwright on Feb. 19, 2023. (Huntington Beach Police Department)
  • Colleagues of Nicholas Vella in the Air Support Unit stand in quiet reflection during a plaque unveiling at Marina Park on Feb. 19, 2023. (Huntington Beach Police Department)
  • Huntington Beach Police Department's Honor Guard is seen at a memorial unveiling at Marina Park on Feb. 19, 2023. (Huntington Beach Police Department)

“One year has passed, and there are still no words that can adequately express this loss,” said Huntington Beach Chief of Police Eric Parra. “We will always remember Nick on this day.”

The cause of the helicopter crash that took Vella’s life remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Those investigations can often take upwards of 16 months to two years to be completed.

The Huntington Beach Police Department has three helicopters and typically keeps one in operation 24 hours a day, according to the Associated Press. The two other aircraft were temporarily grounded for an inspection and investigation, Parra said at the time of the crash.