Man who jumped from chopper had health problems

GREG RISLING, Associated Press
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Photo provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles of Gregory McFadden, 61, from West Covina, Calif.  (AP Photo/California Department of Motor Vehicles)

Photo provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles of Gregory McFadden, 61, from West Covina, Calif. (AP Photo/California Department of Motor Vehicles)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who died after jumping from a helicopter just off the California coast may have committed suicide because he was unable to get surgery for a chronic health condition he struggled with for 15 years, his brother said Wednesday.

Greg McFadden, 61, was the only passenger in the tour helicopter flying above the ocean on Tuesday when he opened the door and jumped, authorities said. His 1,000-foot drop into the water was seen by horrified spectators at Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.

Police said they were investigating the death as a suicide.

Brad McFadden told The Associated Press that his brother had an esophageal disorder that gave him acid reflux and caused him to choke when he went to bed. As a result, Greg McFadden was only able to get a few hours of sleep every night.

He was hoping to get surgery to fix the problem, but it kept getting delayed because he was on Medicare and only a few doctors do the surgery, his brother said.

“It was a very serious problem with him and it may have gotten to a point where it was unbearable,” said Brad McFadden, an attorney and former mayor of West Covina, where the family once lived.

Greg McFadden hired the helicopter pilot to take a 30-minute scenic tour of the Southern California coast. The appointment was booked for two people, but McFadden showed up alone, said Chuck Street, a longtime helicopter pilot and a traffic reporter whose son Corbin was flying the chopper.

Chuck Street said he noticed that McFadden had sores all over his forearms but didn’t know the cause. Street was not in the aircraft when McFadden jumped but relayed an account provided by his son, who was upset by the incident.

In the air over a lake, McFadden inquired about the altitude of the helicopter and later asked if it could go higher. Corbin Street told his father the aircraft was about 1,000 feet over the ocean when McFadden unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door. Corbin Street caught his shirt sleeve as McFadden’s flailing hand hit a control stick that made the helicopter pitch upward, Street told his father.

McFadden jumped as the pilot tried to regain control of the aircraft.

Brad McFadden said he couldn’t explain why his brother decided to create a spectacle above the popular pier.

“If you are contemplating suicide, which is the best way?” he said. “It’s terrible but I guess he was being very creative.”

Greg McFadden was one of four brothers and the son of a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who died two years ago at 86. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in philosophy. Once out of college, he started writing movie scripts but never sold any.

He had worked as a hotel desk clerk and travel agent but was unemployed for the past decade, collecting Social Security benefits. He wasn’t married and had no children.

Brad McFadden described his older brother as a loner who was whip-smart when it came to math. The last time he saw his sibling was two years ago, when Greg McFadden moved out of his house. One of the other McFadden brothers had spoken to Greg a couple of months ago, and he talked about his health condition, Brad McFadden said.

“He was a very good man,” he said. “He cared for people, loved animals and was a down-to-earth guy.”

Chuck Street said his 25-year-old pilot son was frazzled by the events.

“He will never look at a passenger the same again because this will be in the back his mind,” Street said.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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