Remembering 3 soldiers killed in helicopter crash near Rochester one year ago

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Thursday marked the first anniversary of the military helicopter crash that killed three soldiers in Mendon.

The New York Army National Guard UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter — also known as a Black Hawk — crashed in a nose-down position in a field near West Bloomfield Road during the routine training mission around 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2021. The field, near West Bloomfield Road, between Cheese Factory and Boughton Hill roads, is just southeast of Mendon Ponds Park.

Killed were all three soldiers on board, chief warrant officers Steven Skoda and Daniel Prial, both of Rochester, and Christian Koch of Honeoye Falls.

In July, Col. Richard Goldenberg, public affairs officer for the New York National Guard, said that a "procedural error" while rehearsing an emergency training maneuver caused the fatal Jan. 20 crash. Specifically, he said, actions taken by the crew during training "put the aircraft in a position where it became unrecoverable."

It was, he said, an in-flight emergency related to the controls of the aircraft itself.

Several people, including Charles Nadeau of Avon, stopped at the memorial erected along W. Bloomfield Road in Mendon, January 26, 2021.  Three soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed during a National Guard training exercise last week.
Several people, including Charles Nadeau of Avon, stopped at the memorial erected along W. Bloomfield Road in Mendon, January 26, 2021. Three soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed during a National Guard training exercise last week.

As a result of the investigation, Goldenberg said, the U.S. Army has modified its training procedure and has restricted practicing that specific emergency maneuver to flight simulators only.

The helicopter was based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport. This is where Skoda, Prial and Koch all worked full-time, conducting aircraft maintenance, training and flight operations.

Here's more about the three soldiers killed:

Steven Skoda

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, of Rochester was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, of Rochester was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.

Steve Skoda, 54, of Rochester was a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard. He served in the Army for two years, between 1985 and 1987. He joined the National Guard in 1987 and became a pilot five years later.

Skoda was an experienced helicopter pilot with nearly 5,000 flying hours, who served as a UH-60 senior instructor pilot and an instrument flight instructor and a UH-60 maintenance test pilot.

Skoda grew up in Johnstown, Fulton County, and knew he wanted to learn to fly at a young age, according to his mother Barbara Skoda.

Since 1999, he worked as a full-time National Guard technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Greater 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, a National Guard spokesman explained. Skoda was also a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and was deployed there in 2013 and 2019.

Skoda "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," Goldenberg said in January.

Christian Koch

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, of Honeoye Falls was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, of Honeoye Falls was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.

Christian Koch, 39, of Honeye Falls was a 20-year veteran of the National Guard, was also a pilot with the New York State Police aviation unit.

Koch, whose title was chief warrant officer 4, 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 airport.

Koch was veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he served in 2012 and 2013 and the war in Iraq in 2008 and 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.

He initially served as an infantryman in A Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry.

Koch, a graduate of the State University College at Brockport, became a helicopter pilot in 2006, flying from the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester airport. He was an experienced helicopter pilot, who logged 2,350 flying hours, and served as a senior instructor pilot and instrument flight instructor.

"His hard work and drive lead him to becoming the senior instructor pilot for the unit," Goldenberg said. "His motivation and infectious personality made him a great soldier, leader and father"

Described as a loving, good and kind man who lived for his family, Koch died several days before his 40th birthday. He was survived by his wife, Teressa, the pair's four children and numerous other relatives.

Daniel Prial

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30, of Rochester was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30, of Rochester was killed in a military helicopter crash in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021.

Daniel Prial, 30, of Rochester, was a member of the National Guard for one year. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he had served in the U.S. Army since 2012. He attained the rank of captain before he accepted an appointment as warrant officer in the New York Army National Guard, a move he made so he could continue to fly, a National Guard spokesman said.

Raised in Warwick, Orange County, Prial was the middle of five children, who dreamed of joining the military and becoming a pilot.

He was a medical evacuation platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division's 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.

Prial deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015 and served as an instructor pilot for students at the Fort Rucker, Alabama, where the Army trains helicopter pilots. He had logged 670 flying hours.

He, like Skoda, was working as a federal technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester airport.

“Prial was extremely humble and family centric," Goldenberg said. "He had an ability to fit in quickly and make an immediate impact on new groups."

Contact Victoria Freile at vfreile@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @vfreile and Instagram @vfreile. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Remembering 3 soldiers killed in helicopter crash one year ago

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