NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA/AP) — Three people who were killed when a helicopter crashed into a house in a suburban Orange County neighborhood just a few minutes after taking off were identified Wednesday.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department identified those killed as Joseph Anthony Tena, 60, of Newport Beach, Kimberly Lynne Watzman, 45, of Santa Monica, and Brian Reichelt, 56, of Hollywood, Florida.
The helicopter hit a house in Newport Beach with such force that it was barely recognizable. The crushed metal sat in a heap on the side of the home, its tail rotor sticking out of the roof of a nearby home and a 6-foot chunk landing in the street in front of yet another house.
“All of a sudden the house just shook and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re having an earthquake,'” said Marian Michaels, who lives behind the home in a gated community where the helicopter crashed.
Roger Johnson was doing woodwork when he heard the chopping sound of a helicopter’s rotating blades and then a tremendous boom across the street.
“I turned to look out of the garage and that’s when I see this piece of metal flying through the air and hitting a bush and garage door,” Johnson said. “Then I heard someone scream — a real for-real horror scream, like something terrible had happened.”
The crash involved four people aboard the Robinson R44 helicopter and a bystander. All three people killed were in the helicopter, Newport Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.
Watzman was the manager of The Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip, where Reichelt was also an employee, the company confirmed. They were on their way to Catalina Island Tuesday when the helicopter crashed.
“The outpouring of love we’ve had with Kim, people she worked with at The Standard — they seemed to be like a family, and they loved her, as well as all her family and friends,” Kimberly’s brother Ryan Watzman told CBS2 News.
Watzman said his family is desperate for more information about the accident. After providing information to the coroner to help identify his sister, the family hasn’t received any calls, he said.
“Why can’t they just reach out to me and, you know, just tell what they know even if it’s little to nothing?” asked Watzman.
Watzman told CBS2 it was an honor to be the victim’s brother. “She was fun, she was adventurous, she’d probably been to 40, 50 countries backpacking, solo sometimes,” he said. “She loved life, she had a dream job and she couldn’t have been happier.”
David Henry, who lives a couple houses away from the crash site, said he heard the helicopter coming down and knew what it was because he crashed in three separate choppers when he served in Vietnam.
Henry was among those who initially tried to pull victims from the crash but thought better of it.
“They were just jammed in there like sardines,” Henry said. “We were pulling back the aluminum and we said, ‘We’d have to pull them up out of there’ and we could hear the paramedics coming.
“So we said, ‘We’re not going to touch them,'” he said. “We were afraid of hurting them worse.”
Henry said the crash terrified most everyone in the neighborhood.
“It scared the hell out of a lot of people here,” Henry said. “I was shaking like a dog afterward. It brings back some old memories.”
Audrey Ellis, who lives next to the house where the crash happened, was not home at the time but said her neighbors told her they were in the kitchen when the helicopter hit the bedroom of their house.
“It’s so scary,” Ellis said, adding that her neighbors weren’t hurt. “I’m so thankful.”
The aircraft had taken off from John Wayne Airport, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport is about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the crash site.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Messages seeking comment from Revolution Aviation, which is based at the airport and operated the helicopter, were not immediately returned.
The company offers helicopter and airplane classes, the use of aircraft for photography and video production, as well as sightseeing flights.
Revolution Aviation has been offering pilot-training and sightseeing trips since the 1960s and boasts a 100 percent safety record on its website.
Eric Spitzer of Spitzer Helicopter, the aircraft’s owner, said he had leased the R44 to Revolution Aviation since April 2016.
He said the helicopter had just gotten updated equipment a week ago, though he didn’t have further details.
“Somebody called me and asked about the crash and I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” he said. “It was a nice helicopter, very well-maintained.”
The fourth person injured in the accident has not been identified.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)