The three National Guard members killed in a helicopter crash in upstate New York this week were identified Friday as Afghanistan war veterans.
The New York Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter crashed during a routine training mission Wednesday in Mendon, killing all three experienced pilots on board. They have been identified as 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.
“These soldiers were part of our National Guard family and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones,” the New York National Guard said in a statement Friday. “Our chaplains and casualty assistance officer will be with them whenever needed.”
One witness told WROC she saw the helicopter crash in a farmer’s field after spotting it flying at an unnatural angle.
“It could’ve hit the house, anybody’s house,” Ruth Anne Downs told the station. “It was very scary because you saw all of it happening but didn’t know what was happening.”
A probe into the fatal crash is ongoing, the New York National Guard said. An Army team of investigators from Alabama arrived Thursday to start analyzing the crash site and gather evidence.
“The team will investigate the potential human, material and environmental factors that may have caused or led to the accident,” the statement continued. “The length of time to conduct such an investigation varies.”
Skoda was a 35-year Army vet who joined the National Guard in 1987. He also served in the Afghanistan war during deployments in 2013 and 2019 and was known as a mentor to soldiers throughout his career as a helicopter pilot with nearly 5,000 flying hours. He was single and lived in Rochester, officials said.
Koch, a 20-year NY National Guard veteran, served both in Iraq and Afghanistan, with deployments in 2008-09 and 2012-13, respectively. He became a helicopter pilot in 2006 and served as a civilian pilot for New York State Police. He’s survived by his wife, Teresa, and the couple’s four children, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
Prial, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015, was an Army veteran since 2012 after earning a commission at the US Military Academy at West Point. The Rochester resident, who was single, earned the rank of captain prior to being appointed as warrant officer in the National Guard so he could continue flying, officials said.
“Prial was extremely humble and family centric,” Friday’s statement continued. “He had an ability to fit in quickly and make an immediate impact on new groups, according to soldiers in his unit.”