A search was underway Thursday for a helicopter with two people aboard believed to have crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro.  Photo via OnScene.TV.
A search was underway Thursday for a helicopter with two people aboard believed to have crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro. Photo via OnScene.TV.

Authorities Friday confirmed the identity of a helicopter pilot killed along with his passenger when the aircraft crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro.

The helicopter, operated by J. J. Helicopters, crashed just inside the harbor breakwater about 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, about an hour and 10 minutes after it left Torrance Municipal Airport.

The helicopter was piloted by Christopher Todd Reed, 41, of Hermosa Beach, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter. The name of his passenger, a 61-year-old man, was withheld, pending notification of kin.

He was believed to be Michael Justice, a former news photographer who was on assignment for the Port of Los Angeles. He was taking aerial shots of three cruise ships in port on Wednesday, said Phillip Sanfield of the Port of Los Angeles.

The crash of the small, two-bladed single-engine Robinson R22 triggered a multi-agency search that was focused on an area near the Angels Gate lighthouse, one of two entrances to the Port of Los Angeles.

The helicopter was spotted about 10:10 a.m. Thursday, approximately 3,000 feet south of the lighthouse, according to Los Angeles Port Police Chief Tom Gazsi.

Authorities found the wreckage of the helicopter in the water, with the remains of two people aboard.

“It is presumed at this time that Michael Justice was one of the passengers on board,” Gazsi told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “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, if in fact it is Michael, he will be greatly missed by the Port of Los Angeles family as well as his family and relatives.

Christopher Reed is recognized as an accomplished aviator, and … he also was an accomplished individual in his field and will be greatly missed,” Gazsi said.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash, Gaszi said.

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 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.

The U.S. Coast Guard and crews from the Los Angeles city and county fire departments mounted a search along with boat crews from the Long Beach Fire Department, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class SondraKay Kneen.

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 Angels Gate entrance to the port was closed while the search was conducted, but the other entrance to the port — about two miles away, toward the entrance to the Port of Long Beach — remained open, and Port of Los Angeles operations continued, Sanfield said. The Angel’s Gate entry was reopened after the helicopter was found on Thursday, according to the Coast Guard.

Gazsi said the helicopter went down at the fall of night in rainy, overcast conditions, hampering initial search efforts.

—City News Service

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