Thursday, January 5, 2017

Robinson R22 BETA, JJ Helicopters Inc, N702JJ: Fatal accident occurred January 04, 2017 in San Pedro, California

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:


FAA Flight Standards District Office: LONG BEACH

NTSB Identification: WPR17FA047
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, January 04, 2017 in San Pedro, CA
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER R22 BETA, registration: N702JJ
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 4, 2017, about 1735 Pacific standard time, a Robinson R22, N702JJ, collided with the water near San Pedro, California. JJ Helicopters was operating the helicopter under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The commercial pilot and one passenger sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter sustained substantial damage during the accident sequence. The local photography flight departed Torrance Municipal Airport, Torrance, California, about 1635 PST. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed.

The operator reported that the purpose of the flight was to take aerial photos of several cruise ships in a nearby harbor. The helicopter departed from the operator's ramp area, and proceeded to the harbor. It made several orbits around a ship, and then witnesses reported that the helicopter began spinning as it went straight down into the water.

When the helicopter was 2 hours overdue, the operator reported it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and an alert notice (ALNOT) was issued.

Several local agencies initiated a search, and the wreckage was located about 1015 on January 5, 2017.

The local agencies reported that the helicopter came to rest upright in about 18 feet of water. All major components of the helicopter were recovered except the outboard section of a main rotor blade. The fracture surface at the separation point was jagged and angular.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

The passenger of a helicopter that crashed into the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday night was a veteran freelance photographer on assignment to capture photos of a rare trio of cruise ships inside the harbor.

Michael Justice, 61, of San Pedro, and pilot Christopher Reed, 41, of Hermosa Beach, were aboard the Robinson R22 Beta when it crashed near the breakwater that juts out from Cabrillo Beach, killing them. Their bodies were recovered from the aircraft’s wreckage Thursday morning.

Justice was a port photographer and had commissioned a flight on Wednesday after three cruise ships made a rare stopover at the harbor, said port spokesman Phillip Sanfield. The port, he said, doesn’t usually get a visit from three cruises at one time.

He wanted to capture the vessels in the fading sunlight, Sanfield said.

Reed and Justice took off from Zamperini Field in Torrance in one of the copters registered to JJ Helicopters Inc. and flew over the harbor.

Several passengers aboard a cruise ship told authorities that the helicopter circled one of the ships three times before it went down about 5:45 p.m., Sanfield said.

Several other people in the area called 911 notifying dispatchers of the aircraft, which was believed to have crashed near the Angels Gate Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits at the end of the breakwater.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Los Angeles Port Police searched for the wreckage of the helicopter, but did not find it.

Justice and Reed never reported back to the Torrance airbase, Sanfield said.

Then on Thursday, police used sonar equipment to locate the aircraft.

Justice worked with the port since 2010 and has shot for several publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, National Geographic Adventurer and Time magazine. He photographed Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

“He was really an extended member of the harbor family,” Sanfield said. “He lived and breathed on the docks.”

Former Daily Breeze newspaper photojournalist Branimir Kvartuc said he often worked with the freelance photographer in the Torrance area.

“He had a million stories to tell, but never forced them on you,” Kvartuc said.

When Kvartuc left the newspaper for a job at Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office, he knew he would see Justice again.

Kvartuc often ran into Justice at the harbor, an area that Buscaino represents. During a recent conversation, the friends talked about their separate trip’s next month to Cuba and how they planned to meet up.

“It’s almost in a way ... an accomplishment as a photographer to go out doing your job,” he said.

Reed was an accomplished pilot, Los Angeles Port Police Chief Thomas Gazsi said at a news conference Thursday, adding that he “will be greatly missed.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash.

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SAN PEDRO, LOS ANGELES (KABC) --  Two bodies were pulled from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed off the coast of San Pedro, according to officials.

Authorities stated during a press conference Thursday afternoon that the bodies were presumed to be that of photographer Michael Justice and pilot Christopher Reed.

There was no official confirmation of the identities, Port Police stated.

Officials said crews located the wreckage just inside the break wall Thursday morning. The helicopter was attempting to take photographs of a cruise ship when it reportedly crashed in the ocean.

Eyewitness News learned that an R-22 Beta helicopter left the Torrance Airport around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The helicopter belongs to JJ Helicopters, a Torrance-based company.

The Port Police said a pilot and one passenger were on board the helicopter. Officials said passengers on a cruise ship reported seeing a helicopter go down in the port area.

Casey Warren told Eyewitness News Justice was in the helicopter and was going to photograph the cruise ship.

"A sunset shot, we booked it for an hour," Warren explained. "I was supposed to be on the craft with him and I got booted because the R-44 that we wanted wasn't available so he went up in a 22. It only seats one."

Warren said he went to JJ Helicopters after Justice didn't return home Wednesday night.

"He never came home. I got worried so I started calling and I figured I'd come down here to see if his car is still here and that's his car," Warren said pointing to a white vehicle in the parking lot.

Friends and family described Justice as a renowned photographer who traveled the world for his work. Some of his highlights included contributing to National Geographic, flying with the Blue Angels and photographing Mother Theresa.

The U.S. Coast Guard, who came to assist in the search, closed the Los Angeles Harbor entrance as efforts to find something continued. Officials announced the port had re-opened.

Cmdr. Romulus Matthews with the Coast Guard said searchers were scoured an area of roughly 3-5 nautical square miles near Cabrillo Beach.

The search was called off Wednesday evening amid wet weather, which created low visibility. The search resumed Thursday morning when the wreckage was located.

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SAN PEDRO, Calif. (FOX 11 / CNS) - Searchers found a helicopter that crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro, along with the remains of two people aboard on Thursday.

The helicopter was operated by J. J. Helicopters, which reported that the aircraft left Torrance Municipal Airport around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday but failed to return, said Phillip Sanfield of the Port of Los Angeles.
The crash of Robinson R22 Beta triggered a multi-agency search after it was reported at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday near the harbor breakwater. The search was focused on an area near the Angels Gate lighthouse, one of two entrance to the Port of Los Angeles, Sanfield said.

About 11 this morning, authorities found the wreckage of the helicopter in the water, with the remains of two people aboard, Sanfield said.

Authorities have not positively identified either victim, but one of them 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 Thursday, Sanfield told the Daily Breeze.

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 ABC7 that the helicopter had been booked for an hour.

"I was supposed to be on the rotorcraft with him, and I got booted because the Robinson R22 BETA we wanted wasn't available, so he went up in a 22 and it only seats one," Warren said.

"He never came home. I got worried so I started calling," Warren said.

"I figured I'd come down here and see if his car is still here; that's his car."

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 a cruise ship reported seeing the helicopter go down. The aircraft was described by the witnesses as a small black helicopter that hit 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 were continuing, Sanfield said.

Underwater sound-detecting devices were deployed in an effort to find the rotorcraft, Sanfield said.

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Search efforts will continue Thursday in the water around the Port of Los Angeles after a tour helicopter was seen crashing near the breakwater the prior evening. 

Los Angeles Port Police used sonar equipment and U.S. Coast Guard boats searched through the night in an attempt to locate the missing aircraft, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. The black Robinson R22 Beta helicopter and the two people aboard are still unaccounted for, he said.

“We are pretty confident there is a chopper in the water,” he said.

The helicopter was reported down about 5:45 p.m. by a passenger aboard a cruise ship that was departing the harbor, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

Several other people in the area called 911 notifying dispatchers of the aircraft, which was believed to have crashed near the Angels Gate Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits at the end of the breakwater that juts out from Cabrillo Beach.

The helicopter is registered to JJ Helicopters Inc. and took off from Zamperini Field in Torrance for an aerial photo shoot, Anderson said. The Torrance-based company provides tours.

The pilot and passenger did not report back to Torrance airbase, Sanfield said.

The Federal Aviation Administration does not have any confirmation of an aircraft down, according to the agency’s spokesman Ian Gregor.

The Coast Guard says it is trying to determine if any distress calls were made.

Port police planned to use sonar equipment again on Thursday during the search. Authorities have not found debris or passengers in the water.

“As soon as sonar detects something, L.A. Port Police has a dive team and will deploy them,” Sanfield said.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Harbor entrance near the Angels Gate Lighthouse was closed for search efforts, and a 1,000-foot safety zone was in effect. Cruises and cargo ships were rerouted to the Long Beach entrance, so operations could continue at the Port of L.A., Sanfield said.

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Authorities late Wednesday were searching the waters off the Port of Los Angeles for a helicopter that reportedly ditched into the water near the Angels Gate Lighthouse with two aboard, officials said.

Several passengers on an outbound cruise ship, the Star Princess, called 911 about 5:45 p.m. to report seeing “a small black helicopter approach the water and crash,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

She said searchers believe the helicopter was a Robinson R-22 that took off from Torrance Municipal Airport with two people on board.

The Coast Guard has not been able to make contact with the helicopter, which bears a tail number of N702JJ.

Federal Aviation Administration records show a Robinson R-22 with the number is registered to JJ Helicopters Inc., a Torrance-based company that offers helicopter tours of Los Angeles and aerial photo flights.

The aircraft was manufactured in 2005, according to the registry.

The helicopter was seen near the lighthouse just outside the 2.1-mile-long breakwater that jets out from Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield said reports put the helicopter around Buoy 3.

Assisting in the search were a Coast Guard helicopter from Point Mugu and Coast Guard boat crews, Los Angeles Port Police and Los Angeles County Fire Department, Anderson said.

No signs of the helicopter or its occupants had been found, Anderson said, but he added that rescuers planned to continue their search late into the night.

The helicopter reportedly circled the cruise ship before crashing, according to a Facebook comment from a woman who said her parents witnessed the impact.

“My parents are on the cruise liner that the helicopter crashed near. It is so shocking and sad!!” Karah Street Ludington wrote. “They said it flew around them a few times and then went into a spin and crashed. Disappeared into the water fast. They haven’t seen anyone surface.”

Last week, three people were injured when a Robinson R-44 helicopter made a “hard landing” on Mount Baldy.

Robinson R-22 helicopters have been involved in 160 fatal crashes, with 239 deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Torrance-based manufacturer came under scrutiny from a New Zealand aviation agency last year, which suspended the use of Robinson helicopters after a series of crashes.


SAN PEDRO ( — Crews from multiple agencies were scouring the waters off the coast of San Pedro Wednesday evening for a missing helicopter carrying two people.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a Robinson R22 took off from Zamperini Field in Torrance this afternoon and did not return. Based on radar logs, the helicopter lifted off at around 4:35 p.m. and made its way to Terminal Island. It disappeared off the radar at 5:37 p.m. There were no distress calls sent from the helicopter. In a late evening news conference, Port Police Chief Tom Gazsi said two people were believed to be aboard the helicopter, a pilot and a passenger.

Gazsi said several people aboard a cruise ship reported seeing the helicopter crash.

“Pretty much, they got really close and it looked like it tilted sideways, and it looked like it went under,” witness Steven Nocon told KCAL9.

Gazsi said the search was focused on an area with about a one-mile radius near Cabrillo Beach and Angels Gate Park, inside the breakwater. As of 9:30 p.m., no helicopter or debris had been found. Crews were scanning the water with sonar. The search would continue into the night, Gazsi said.

Los Angeles Harbor was closed off to vessel traffic.

Los Angeles police and Los Angeles County Fire were assisting in the search.

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