Thousands of friends, relatives and co-workers packed into Honda Center Tuesday to say farewell to Huntington Beach Police Department Officer Nicholas Vella, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers took part in an early morning procession, escorting Vella’s body from Huntington Beach to Anaheim for the service, which was closed to the public but streamed online by the city so residents could pay their respects.
Dozens of people lined the streets to watch the solemn procession pass by as it made its way to Honda Center. Some held up signs of support, some saying just “Thank you.”
Vella, 44, was killed in the Feb. 19 crash of a police helicopter into the ocean water off Newport Beach. His partner was pulled from the wreckage and survived.
Vella was an 18-year law enforcement veteran, serving 14 years with the Huntington Beach agency, following four years in Laguna Beach.
“I met Nick, but I didn’t know Nick because I’ve only been here, it’s my third month in Huntington Beach as the chief,” HBPD Chief Eric Parra said during the service. “So I started to get familiar with him. So I asked my aide to get me his personnel file. And I’m reading them — every single one — `This is the greatest guy, he’s got the best communication style, he’s going to do whatever he wants in this department, he’s a leader, he exemplifies courage.’ He’s all of these things that are very positive in every single evaluation.”
Vella is survived by his wife and teenage daughter.
The helicopter crash occurred as Vella and his partner — a 16-year department veteran — were responding to a call for assistance from the Newport Beach Police Department. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, the pilot radioed that the helicopter was having mechanical problems shortly before it plunged into the ocean water.
The aircraft landed in the water between Balboa Island and Lido Isle.
Lifeguards and rescue personnel rushed to the scene and could be seen pulling the two occupants from the submerged aircraft.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adjourned its meeting in honor of Vella.
“He was an officer truly dedicated to his job and he was doing what he loved to do,” Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said.
Vella’s “selfless devotion to duty protecting the lives of others serves as a shining example to us all,” Do said.
He said the death of any police officer like Vella in the line of duty “reminds us each the day the sacrifices our firest responders make every day to keep us safe and sound.”