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Helicopter Passenger Plunges To His Death, May Have Committed Suicide Over Chronic Health Condition (UPDATE)

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LOS ANGELES -- LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who died after jumping from a helicopter off of Newport Beach may have committed suicide because he was unable to get surgery for a chronic health condition he suffered with for the past 15 years, his brother told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Greg McFadden, 61, was the only passenger in a helicopter flying about 500 feet above the ocean Tuesday when he opened the door and jumped, authorities said. He fell into the water near Balboa Pier and was taken to shore by lifeguards. He later died at a hospital.

Police said they are investigating the death as a suicide.

McFadden's brother, Brad, said his sibling had an esophageal disorder that would give him a bad case of 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 a surgery to fix the problem but it kept getting delayed.

"It was a very serious problem with him and it may have gotten to a point where it was unbearable," said McFadden, an attorney and the former mayor of West Covina where the family grew up.

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

Street told KCAL-TV that his son grew suspicious when Greg McFadden kept asking him to fly higher and higher. When the helicopter neared the pier, McFadden took his seat belt off and began to open the door. Street said his son grabbed his passenger.

"The guy started to struggle, the aircraft kind of pitched up ... my son had his hand on his shirt, his shirt ripped and the guy just went out the door," Street said.

Horrified onlookers walking along the pier and the beach saw the incident and at least several people called 911, authorities said.

McFadden said he learned about what happened from a news reporter who called him. He then called the Orange County coroner's office who confirmed his brother had died. He couldn't explain why his brother decided to make such a spectacle.

"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 the age of 86. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in philosophy, his brother said.

Once out of college, Greg McFadden started writing movie scripts but never was able to sell one. He worked as a hotel desk clerk and a travel agent, but was unemployed for the past decade, collecting Social Security benefits. He wasn't married and didn't have any kids.

McFadden described his older brother as a loner and whip smart when it came to mathematics. The last time he saw his sibling was two years ago after 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, McFadden said.

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

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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