The New York National Guard released the identities of three service members killed in a helicopter training accident on Friday, a day after their bodies were recovered and transported by police and fire escort from the crash site.
The victims include Chief Warrant Officer Steven Skoda, a 35-year veteran of the Army and the New York Amy National Guard. He first joined the National Guard in 1987 and started to fly UH-1 helicopters from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester when he became a pilot in 1992.
Skoda was also an Afghanistan War veteran who served in 2013 and 2019 and a mentor to soldiers of all ranks throughout his career, the National Guard said. He was 54 years old.
Skoda died along with Chief Warrant Officer Christian Koch and Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Prial in the crash Wednesday evening. Koch was a 20-year veteran of the New York Army National Guard and initially served as an infantryman in A Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry. A veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Koch was an experienced helicopter pilot and instrument flight instruction. The 39-year-old married father of four also worked as a civilian pilot for the New York State Police, which mourned his loss in a statement Friday.
"The New York State Police thank him for his service to his country, and to the people of the State of New York," the statement said in part.
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. Prial 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 30 years old and lived in Rochester. Fellow soldiers described him as extremely humble and family-centric, the National Guard said in a statement.
The three men earned a litany of awards between them, including the Meritorious Service and NATO medals, Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation and Army Commendation, Army Achievement, Global War on Terrorism Service and National Defense Service medals, among other honors.
The U-60 medical evacuation helicopter involved in Wednesday's crash was based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport. It went down in Mendon during what was supposed to be a routine training mission.
The crew had been conducting night vision goggle proficiency training in the area at the time of the accident. The circumstances remain under investigation. The FAA is assisting in the probe.
"These Soldiers were a part of our National Guard family and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones," the New York National Guard said Friday as the names were released. "The New York National Guard will be there for these family members as they navigate these trying times. Our chaplains and casualty assistance officers will be with them whenever needed."
Photos of the crash scene posted by local news media showed the aircraft wreckage burning on a snow-covered field.
On Thursday, first responders lined part of the route and saluted as a procession accompanying a medical examiner’s vehicle drove to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office in Brighton.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lowered flags on state buildings to half-staff in tribute to the troops.
“National Guard members are our citizen soldiers who voluntarily serve and protect both here and abroad, and I extend prayers and condolences from all New Yorkers to the family, loved ones and fellow soldiers of these honorable heroes,” Cuomo said in a statement.