National Guard: Crew error led to Mendon helicopter crash that killed 3 soldiers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The New York Army National Guard Thursday said "procedural error" led to the helicopter crash that killed three guardsmen in Mendon back in January.

National Guard Colonel Richard Goldenberg said at the time of the crash, the three soldiers were running a drill where the crew had to make an "emergency maneuver" using the helicopter’s flight controls.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: In layman terms, can you describe the emergency they were training for when the mistake was made?

Col. Goldenberg: It was an in-flight emergency related to the flight controls of the aircraft itself.

Chief Warrant Officers Christian Koch, Steven Skoda, and Daniel Prial were all killed when their helicopter crashed during a routine training exercise on Jan. 20. All three were honored with funeral services near their hometowns in the following week.

The officers were flying in a UH-60 helicopter, a model News10NBC showed you, was involved in a number of incidents, including another deadly crash just weeks after the Mendon crash. We combed through military crash records, and the most recent year available was 2018.

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That year, the military recorded 18 crashes, 17 of which were minor, and four were due to a mechanical problem, and none of those mechanical problems were the same.

Goldenberg said an investigation found no issues with the helicopter’s maintenance records and deemed its overall condition to be "normal." He said the soldiers’ families were all briefed on this information prior to Thursday’s announcement.

The Colonel said the helicopter was in a "nose down" position just before it crashed. Neighbors in the area of the crash believe the soldiers may have intentionally aimed for the field, so as to not hit their homes, but Goldenberg said it has not been determined if the aircraft would have likely struck any homes.

As a result of the crash, Goldenberg said the specific training the soldiers went through is now only being used on flight simulators.

Beyond the error, the Colonel said the soldiers had more than 50 years of combined flight experience and said military flying is inherently risky.

"Chief Warrant Officers Skoda, Koch and Prial were doing what they loved and that they had committed their military careers to — flying," Col. Goldenberg said.

Despite repeatedly asking, we could not get a simple, clear explanation of the emergency procedure the pilots were doing.

But the Army decided that from now on, that procedure will be done in simulators, not in the air.