1 year later, Mendon citizens work to honor National Guard Members who died in helicopter crash

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MENDON, N.Y. (WHEC) — Thursday marks one year since the National Guard helicopter crash in Mendon that killed all three guardsmen on board.

Chief Warrant Officers Steven Skoda and Daniel Prial, both of Rochester and Christian Koch of Honeoye Falls lost their lives in the cash which happened during a routine training mission.

Since then, a number of community members in Mendon have worked to honor the memories of the three men.

“I’ve owned it probably 25 years, we grow soybeans and wheat here,” said Marvin Vahue, the owner of the farm along West Bloomfield Road where the UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter crashed.

Vahue was at a birthday party for his son on Jan. 20, 2021.

“I got a call from a friend about 6:30-6:45 p.m. who told me that a chopper had crashed on the farm and I said ‘Oh my gosh, I’ll be right home,’” he recalled.

When he got there, emergency responders covered almost every inch of the field and a debris trail stopped just before his barn.

“The tail of the thing [helicopter] was still on fire, still in flames… I guess my friend over here was at his barn when he heard it and he said it went over and it was just one big bang and it burst into flames,” he told News10NBC.

The three members of the National Guard who were on board were conducting night-vision proficiency training when human error put the Black Hawk in a position where it became unrecoverable, according to an investigation by the National Guard.

Since the crash, Vahue and other volunteers have built a memorial at the crash site and he keeps it open to anyone who wants to visit including the family members of the victims, “from time to time we’ve seen them back here,” he said.

But people who live in the Town of Mendon wanted to do more.

“It’s just tragic, tragic,” said John Moffitt, the Mendon Town Supervisor, “we’re a relatively small town and it’s pretty quiet, we don’t have a lot of activity here and you know when something like this happens, the community really comes together.”

Muffy Meisenzahl lives nearby and was especially heartbroken considering one of the three victims, Christian Koch, lived in Mendon with his family.

“It’s an awful tragedy wherever it happens. Being close to home and having someone local involved makes it even more personal, so it was hard for everyone to absorb and process,” she said.

That’s why they decided to ask the Koch family what they’d like to see.

“His wife, she really wanted something that she could take the children to that would be positive and that would they would almost be proud and look forward to going to not just something solemn,” Moffitt said.

So, the town decided to add a memorial to a spray park being built at Semmell Road Park.

“We believe that it will attract a lot of people to that park so, that will give more visibility to the memorial and work as an educational tool to help people better understand what the National Guard mission is and it’s all about,” said Meisenzahl, who chaired the Committee on the memorial.

Vahue intends to keep the memorial at his property up too.

“We plan on maybe a garden around there, we’re going to do some more things here this summer hopefully and the excavator is here, we’re gonna put an area right here for two cars to park off and get off the roadway,” he said, “it will stay here forever as far as I’m concerned.”