Retired RPD Officer/NYSP/National Guard pilot 1 of 2 killed in Mercy Flight helicopter crash

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ELBA, N.Y. (WHEC) — A Mercy Flight helicopter crashed in the Town of Elba on Tuesday afternoon, killing two men.

New York State Police say that the two people on board Mercy Flight Bell 429 were out on a training mission out of the Mercy Flight station at the Genesee County Airport.

At around 1 p.m., troopers say the helicopter came down off Norton Road between Edgerton Road and Ford Road.

Mercy Flight pilot James Sauer, 60, of Churchville is one of the deceased. He leaves behind his wife, Marie, two adult children, and grandchildren.

The other man who died was Stewart M. Dietrick, 60 of Prosper, Texas, a Bell Helicopter flight instructor.

Sauer is also a retired New York State Police Pilot. The company said he has worked with Mercy Flight since October 2020. In August 2020, Sauer marked his ceremonial "Final Flight" with New York’s Army National Guard. He was a Chief Warrant Officer, flew out of the Rochester flight facility, and he served for 40 years, including a tour in Afghanistan. News10NBC was there for the ceremony.

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"Every day is different at work, we have a saying that the office is small but the view is beautiful," Sauer told our crew at the ceremony.

Sauer’s official retirement from the National Guard was in November of 2020.

A spokesperson with the National Guard released the following statement to News10NBC:

"Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Sauer was a member of the NY Army National Guard. He retired last year."

Rochester Police Lt. Greg Bello said Sauer was a Rochester Police Officer from 1993 until 2001 and sent the following message:

"We are heartbroken at the loss of Officer Sauer, who served a lifetime of dedication to public service. He is truly a hero to the Greater Rochester Community."

John Spaulding grew up down the road from the Sauers, and described Jim as a man of faith who loved his family. Spaulding took pictues at Sauer’s "Final Flight" ceremony.

Spaulding said Sauer logged more than 6,000 hours of military and civilian flight time, so he believes there must have been something wrong with the helicopter.

"I’d fly anywhere with the guy—everything was meticulous—everything was by the book," Spaulding said. "Never vary from a checklist—was done all the time. You know, there’s no shortcuts, no corners taken. Highest ethics and morals you could ever expect from any human being. And I’ve told some other people today that he’s the epitome of a man. He is what every boy should want to grow up to be like."

Before the New York State Police released the names of the men killed in the crash, Maj. Eugene Staniszewski held a press conference where he said it’s possible that the helicopter may have struck power lines on the way down, but that he did not believe the lines caused the crash.

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People who live in the area of the crash told News10NBC Reporter Stephanie Duprey that helicopters frequently fly overhead. Charlene Schultz told Duprey she heard loud, frightening noises that sounded to them like they were coming from the helicopter’s engine.

"Helicopters come over constant, but this, the motor sounded weird," Schultz said. "You know when you start your car and it goes whir, whir that’s what it sounded like to me twice. Then it went out completely, then it went back on and I heard the big bang."

Then, Schultz said she ran outside to see what it was, but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw.

Mercy Flight’s Executive Vice President Scott Wooton released the following statement:

“It goes without saying that our attention needs to be focused on the families of those lost and on our own employees as we deal with this unspeakable tragedy. This is a very dark day for the Mercy Flight family, we are so grateful for the expressions of love, concern and support expressed by many,” said Margaret Ferrentino, Mercy Flight’s President.

“Mercy Flight has temporarily suspended operations in order to allow time for our employees to process the event, and to ensure the complete safe mechanical operation of our other helicopters pending a preliminary accident team investigation. The Mercy Flight Communications Center will remain operational and will refer any requests to other area resources who are standing by to assist.”

The full scanner audio from the incident is in the player below (mobile users, click here):

Web Producer · Genesee County Helicopter Crash

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, including by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.