Searchers Thursday found a helicopter that crashed in the Los Angeles Harbor area near San Pedro, along with the remains of two men aboard.
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 the small, two-bladed single-engine Robinson R22 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 a.m., authorities found the wreckage of the helicopter in the water, with the remains of two people aboard, Sanfield said.
Authorities have not positively identified the victims, described by the coroner's office as men in their 40s. However, 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 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's godson, Casey Warren, said that the helicopter had been booked for an hour.
"I was supposed to be on the craft with him, and I got booted because the R44 we wanted wasn't available, so he went up in a 22 and it only seats one," Warren said.
Justice's car was parked at J.J. Helicopters.
"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 aircraft, Sanfield said.