Bodies recovered at crash site

From left: Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, of Rochester; Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, of Honeoye Falls; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30, of Rochester. The three national guardsmen were killed in a helicopter crash in the town of Mendon on Wednesday night. Photos courtesy of state Division of Military and Naval Affairs

MENDON — The three National Guard soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in the town of Mendon, Monroe County, on Wednesday night have been identified.

They were Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, of Rochester; Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, of Honeoye Falls; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30, of Rochester, according to the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs,

“These Soldiers were a part of our National Guard family and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones,” said Col. Richard Goldenberg, the New York National Guard public affairs officer. “The New York National Guard will be there for these family members as they navigate these trying times. Our chaplains and casualty assistance officers will be with them whenever needed. Our service members wish to extend their heartfelt thanks to the members of law enforcement, first responders and the community at large for their support and sympathy during this trying time.”

The UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter the three men were piloting was on a routine training mission when it crashed about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night in a field along West Bloomfield Road near Cheese Factory Road. The unit trains to perform aeromedical evacuation and the crew had been conducting night vision goggle proficiency training in the local area.

The helicopter was assigned to C Company of the 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation based at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester.

The crash is under investigation.

An Army safety investigation team arrived Thursday from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to begin its analysis of the accident. The team will gather all relevant data and evidence to use during its investigation from before, during, and after the accident.

The team will investigate the potential human, materiel and environmental factors that may have caused or led to the accident. The length of time to conduct such an investigation varies.

“The service members were more than just service members. They are members of our hometown community. They live among us. They work among us. And they perform duties and professional responses that a lot of people choose not to do,” Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Michael Fowler said Thursday.

West Bloomfield Road has been closed since the crash and was to remain closed at least through Friday morning. Detours are in place.

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, speaking during a Wednesday evening press conference, said witnesses calling 911 reported hearing sputtering engine sounds and that the “aircraft was flying very low, more low than normal.”

When emergency crews arrived on scene the helicopter was on fire, Baxter said.

Those responding then attempted life saving measures, Baxter said, and instituted a grid search with a state police helicopter to find anyone on that aircraft or in the area.

“Once we recognized the life saving measures wouldn’t be successful, we immediately moved to secure the scene and begin the difficult process of recovering those heroes,” Fowler said Thursday. “That effort went on for several hours with a lot of cooperation from other first responders. The medical examiner’s office took the lead and worked hand-in-hand with New York Army National Guard to ensure the process was done in the most respectful and most dignified manner we could possibly perform in a difficult situation like this.”

Fowler said a large area has been secured to protect the crash scene.

Baxter said Wednesday the debris field extends “over what I’d describe as a few city blocks,” or hundreds of feet in each direction from the crash site.

“This is a heavy, heavy burden upon all of us,” Baxter said “These are our freedom providers ... just showing again that freedom is not free. We lost three great Americans today in the service of our country.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed that flags on all state buildings be lowered to half-staff in honor and in tribute to the soldiers.

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