The passenger killed in a helicopter crash into the dark waters of the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro was a photographer assigned by port officials to take pictures of cruise ships, authorities have now confirmed.
The pilot was the other man who died in the crash.
The aircraft, operated by J. J. Helicopters, crashed just inside the harbor breakwater at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, about an hour and 10 minutes after it left Torrance Municipal Airport.
Photographer Michael Justice, 61, was confirmed as the passenger killed in the crash, according to the coroner’s office.
The helicopter was piloted by Christopher Todd Reed, 41, of Hermosa Beach, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.
Autopsies were pending for both men, the coroner’s office said.
Justice was 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.
“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,” Gazsi told reporters on Thursday. “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.
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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