NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA.com) — A 61-year-old man died Tuesday afternoon after plunging 750 feet from a helicopter near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.
Corbin Street, the 25-year-old pilot of a private helicopter, reported to John Wayne Airport air traffic controllers that his passenger, Gregory McFadden, jumped out of his aircraft around 1 p.m. while they were on a 30-minute tour of the coast.
A Huntington Beach police helicopter found the victim in the water and directed lifeguards and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol personnel to the scene.
“I made entry with the rescue board,” said lifeguard John Moore. “I started paddling in the general area we were told the victim was with the help of the police helicopter. At that point, we had visual contact of him. He was in the surf line by that point. I released the rescue board. We were able to bring the victim to the beach where we began our lifesaving efforts.”
McFadden was then transported to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported that the passenger opened the chopper door and jumped.
A few dozen people witnessed the man’s fall, including James Politano, who was fishing off the pier.
“I saw the door open. I thought it was a bird. Halfway from the helicopter, the legs opened. [I thought], ‘Oh, it’s a human being!’ I hope [they’re] going to still survive,” Politano said.
Street’s father, Chuck, a well-known helicopter pilot, told KCAL9’s Stacey Butler that he and his son knew something wasn’t right as soon as McFadden walked into the hangar of Anaheim Helicopters in Fullerton.
“He seemed a little bit strange. He had kinda scabs on his arms,” Chuck said.
Chuck recalled his son’s terrifying experience on the chopper with McFadden.
“During the flight, [McFadden] kept asking to go higher and higher. [He said,] ‘Can you fly right here along the shore?’ My son was starting to get suspicious,” Chuck said. “When they got towards the Balboa Pier, he started to take his seat belt off and he started to open the door. My son said, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’”
Chuck said his son put his hand over the man to stop him.
“The guy started to kinda struggle. The aircraft kinda pitched up. My son had his hand on his shirt, his shirt ripped. And then the guy just went out the door,” he said.
Chuck said the police found a suicide note on McFadden.
McFadden’s brother said via phone that his brother was a loner who struggled with mental illness, a severe throat disease and depression. He added that he had been disassociated with him for about two years.
The helicopter, which was ordered to land at John Wayne Airport after the incident, was registered to Emerald City Aircraft Leasing Inc. out of Port Orchard, Wash.
The death is being investigated as a possible suicide.