Wreckage Of Missing Helicopter, 2 Bodies Recovered Off San Pedro

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Searchers Thursday located a helicopter a day after it crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro.

The small, two-bladed single-engine Robinson R22 was spotted shortly after 10 a.m. in 15 to 20 feet of water about 3,000 feet south of the light house, according to Los Angeles Port Police Chief Tom Gazsi.

The helicopter, operated by J. J. Helicopters, went down shortly after leaving Torrance Municipal Airport around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Phillip Sanfield of the Port of Los Angeles.

Multiple witnesses aboard at least one cruise ship reported a small black helicopter hitting the water near the harbor breakwall, according to the Coast Guard.

The remains of two people in the chopper were also recovered. The victims were identified as Christopher Reed, the pilot, and his passenger, renowned photographer Michael Justice.

Justice was on assignment for the Port of Los Angeles to take aerial shots of three cruise ships in port, Sanfield said.

Reed was employed by J. J. Helicopters. “When we talked to the authorities, they said that several people on the cruise ship had witnessed a helicopter going down and hitting the water,” Reed’s stepfather, Lyle Rossing, spoke to CBS’2 Tom Wait from Arizona. “It must have been some impact because the authorities didn’t find any debris.”

Rossing said his stepson recently took up flying and was excelling at it as he learned to fly planes and helicopters.

Although Reed worked at the energy firm Honeywell, he took up a side job flying tourists around L.A. His mother was one of his passengers.

“He had taken his mother up in that a couple of months ago. And she is a little leery of heights anyway. As his mother said he was always so careful. He would check everything and make sure about everything,” Rossing recalled.

“Michael is a renowned international photographer, had done extensive work with the Port of Los Angeles, highly respected, highly revered, and his work will go on into perpetuity with great regard, respect in honor,” Gaszi said. “He will be greatly missed by the Port of Los Angeles family as well as his family and relatives.”

The helicopter was raised from the water Thursday afternoon. It will be place on a barge and taken to Coast Guard Station Los Angeles-Long Beach, Gazsi said.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the crash.

In a Facebook posting, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said Justice “was one of the nicest and most talented photographers I had ever met. My deepest sympathies go out to all of his family, friends and colleagues. He will be missed.”

Justice’s godson, Casey Warren, told CBS2’s Cristy Fajardo that he was scheduled to fly with Justice Wednesday evening, but was forced off the flight after the aircraft was changed to a smaller helicopter.

“When I noticed Mike wasn’t home at 9 p.m. last night, I got concerned,” he said.

Justice traveled the world for his work and took photos for National Geographic. He also flew with the Blue Angels and took photos of Mother Teresa.

A close friend said he was entering the “sweet spot” of his career.

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