MENDON, N.Y. (WROC) — Thursday marked exactly one year since a military helicopter crash in Mendon claimed the lives of three New York National Guardsmen.
According to officials, the UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter was on a routine training mission when it crashed in a farmer’s field along West Bloomfield Road near Cheese Factory Road on January 20, 2021.
The three victims of the crash were 54-year-old Steven Skoda of Rochester, 39-year-old Christian Koch of Honeoye Falls, and 30-year-old Daniel Prial of Rochester.
Investigators with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said the crash happened around 6:32 p.m. Witnesses reported hearing sputtering sounds and seeing the helicopter flying low to the ground.
According to Col. Richard Goldenberg last July, the cause of the crash was not a maintenance issue, but a “procedural error during an emergency training maneuver.” He added that the U.S. Army has since restricted practicing that emergency procedure to flight simulators only.
“The New York National guard again extends our deepest sympathies to the families of the three pilots killed in the January 20th helicopter crash,” Col. Goldenberg said. “The subsequent Army investigation reviewed the aircraft and its maintenance records, training, flight preparation standards, flight recorder, and all the details of the Army’s Readiness Center’s research to determine the cause of the crash. All three families were notified of these investigation findings in in-person briefings by the units of senior leadership.”
WATCH: Procession for soldiers killed in Mendon military helicopter crash
Col. Goldenberg said the crew had been undergoing an emergency procedure training maneuver, reiterating that the procedures and actions taken are what lead to the crash.
“The biggest lesson for the aviation community, not just the New York Army National Guard, but across all Army aviation, is this modification to the procedures for the training that now limits this procedural training to occur in simulator only,” Col. Goldenberg said. “The procedures that were undertaken that evening specifically related to the flight techniques led to actions taken by the crew which put the aircraft in a position where it became unrecoverable.”
The colonel said the nighttime hours did not play a factor in this helicopter crash.
“All three pilots were experienced combat veterans,” Col. Goldenberg said. “They had more than 50 years of combined flight experience who were all devoted to Army aviation and flying. Military aviation is inherently risky due to the complex flying environment that our pilots and crews have to prepare for. It can also be an unforgiving environment with life and death, decisions and actions, no matter the circumstance, whether mechanical or crew related. Chief Warrant Officers Steven Skoda, Christian Koch, and Daniel Prial were doing what they loved and what they had committed their military careers to — flying.
“This organization is dedicated to saving lives as a medical evacuation company,” Col. Goldenberg said. “These soldiers gave their lives and sacrificed themselves as part of a wider mission where they understand that the efforts we all take here in this particular facility is to fly aircraft to rescue others.”
Mendon Town Supervisor John Moffitt says even a year on, this is something that’s still very involved with this community here… something that will have a multi-generational impact. The plan is to make a memorial set up to open this year—not at the crash site— but rather a new spot on Semmel Road. The memorial would be next to a planned splash park, all of it yet to be built.
He says the splash park is a place the community and visitors will no doubt come to —and will see this memorial as a constant reminder. It’s also NOT the site of the crash, something he feels would be painful for the families. Moffitt says this will be a big deal not just for the town, but in particular for the family of Chief Warrant Officer Christian Koch, from this area.
“I think part of it is because one of the gentlemen is from the Town of Mendon and his children are still here, and it’s important for us to remember this, we’re a relatively small town. Frankly, things like this don’t happen very often, so we definitely want to memorialize it. We want people to realize that our people who are in the reserves and various service members are protecting us and doing service for our country. Unfortunately, sometimes these things do happen,” he says.
The local American Legion is raising funds for the memorial. Donations can be mailed to: American Legion Post 664, P.O. Box 249, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Biographies from the National Guard
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda was a 35-year veteran of the Army and the New York Army National Guard. He served in the Active Army from 1985 to 1987. He joined the National Guard 1987.
In 1992 he became a pilot and began flying UH-1 helicopters from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester. He was 54 years old.
Skoda was a veteran of the Afghanistan War who deployed there in 2013 and 2019.
He was an experienced helicopter pilot who served as a UH-60 senior instructor pilot and an instrument flight instructor and a UH-60 maintenance test pilot. He had almost 5,000 flying hours.
He mentored Soldiers of all ranks throughout his career.
Skoda was rated to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk A and L models, the UH-1 “Huey”, the OH-58 Kiowa, the AH-1 Cobra, and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.
He worked as a full-time National Guard technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport, as well as serving as a member of C Company of the 171st General Support Aviation Battalion.
A National Guard technician is a federal employee who must also serve in the National Guard as a condition of employment. Skoda had been a technician since 1999.
Skoda’s awards included the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the NATO Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation, the Army Reserve Overseas Training Ribbon, the Department of State Superior Honor Award, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Master Army Aviator Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation.
He was a friend and mentor to all the Soldiers in his unit, supporting the training and career progressions of hundreds of aircrews throughout his career, according to Soldiers at the flight facility.
He was single and was a resident of Rochester.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch (COKE) was a 20-year veteran of the New York Army National Guard. He initially served as an infantryman in A Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry.
He became a helicopter pilot in 2006, flying from the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport. He was 39 years old.
Koch was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012- 2013 and served in Iraq in 2008-2009. He served as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the National Guard security mission in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in 2004.
His hard work and drive lead him to becoming the Senior Instructor Pilot for the unit. His motivation and infectious personality made him a great Soldier, Leader and Father, according to unit members.
He was an experienced helicopter pilot who served as a senior instructor pilot and instrument flight instructor. In civilian life he worked as a civilian pilot for the New York State Police.
Koch was rated to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk A and L models, as well as the CH-47 Chinook. He had 2,350 flying hours.
His awards include the Air Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Army Forces Service Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Army Reserve Overseas Training ribbon, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Senior Army Aviator Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
He held a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from SUNY Brockport.
He was a resident of Honeoye Falls and is married to Teressa DaGama.
Chief Warrant Officer Two Daniel Prial
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial had served in the Army since 2012 after earning a commission at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
He served as a medical evacuation platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
He deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015 with the 82nd Airborne Division and served as an instructor pilot for students at the Fort Rucker, Alabama, where the Army trains helicopter pilots.
Prial was 30 years old.
He attained the rank of captain before accepting an appointment as a warrant officer in the New York Army National Guard so he could continue to fly. He was working as a federal technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport.
A National Guard technician is a federal employee who must also serve in the National Guard as a condition of employment.
He was rated to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and had 670 flying hours.
His awards include the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the NATO Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal and the Army Aviator Badge.
Prial was extremely humble and family centric. He had an ability to fit in quickly and make an immediate impact on new groups, according to Soldiers in his unit.
He was single and lived in Rochester.