Family remembers veteran killed in helicopter crash on Calif. reality TV set

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LOS ANGELES - Authorities have identified three people killed Sunday in a pre-dawn helicopter crash while filming for a new reality TV show for the Discovery Channel.

The helicopter crashed about 3:40 a.m. at the popular filming location Polsa Rosa Ranch, in the Southern California city of Acton.

Coroner's spokesman Ed Winter identified the victims Monday as 59-year-old David Gene Gibbs of Valencia, Calif.; 46-year-old Darren Arthur Rydstrom of Whittier, Calif.; and 45-year-old Michael William Donatelli of Indiana, Pa.

Donatelli's family said he was a decorated war veteran who was a retired Green Beret/Ranger master sergeant.

Channel 11's Cara Sapida spoke to Donatelli's wife, Gigi Donatelli, on Tuesday. She said her husband served multiple combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the globe.

"My husband was the best thing God ever put on the Earth. We have five kids and he loved them all," Gigi Donatelli said. "He adored this country."

His wife said he received multiple honors while serving in the military, including the Legion of Merit.

"His family saw him go to war and was worried sick about him. His mom was telling me the other day that she was worried every time the doorbell rang that they were going to say something happened to him," Gigi Donatelli said.

The show was listed on a filming permit as an untitled military-themed TV program. The production company and the Discovery Channel offered their condolences to the families of the victims.

"My 3-year-old was his pride and joy. He's obsessed with his dad. He packed a suitcase today and said he's going to California to see him," Gigi Donatelli said.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the cause and other circumstances surrounding the crash were still unknown.