MENDON – The three National Guard soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in the town of Mendon, Monroe County, on Wednesday night have been identified.
They were 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, according to the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs,
“These Soldiers were a part of our National Guard family and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones,” said Col. Richard Goldenberg the New York National Guard public affairs officer. “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. Our service members wish to extend their heartfelt thanks to the members of law enforcement, first responders, and the community at large for their support and sympathy during this trying time.”
The UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter the three men were piloting was on a routine training mission when it crashed about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night in a field along West Bloomfield Road near Cheese Factory Road. The unit trains to perform aeromedical evacuation and the crew had been conducting night vision goggle proficiency training in the local area.
The helicopter was assigned to C Company of the 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation based at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester. The crash is under investigation. An Army safety investigation team arrived Jan. 21 from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to begin its analysis of the accident. The team will gather all relevant data and evidence to use during its investigation from before, during, and after the accident. The team will investigate the potential human, materiel and environmental factors that may have caused or led to the accident. The length of time to conduct such an investigation varies.
Koch was a 1999 graduate of York Central Schools, confirmed Superintendent David Furletti Thursday, and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from SUNY Brockport. He was a 20-year veteran of the New York Army National Guard, first serving as an infantryman in A Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry.
He became a helicopter pilot in 2006, flying out of the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport.
Koch was a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013 and served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. In 2004, he served as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the National Guard security mission in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Koch was known for hard work and drive, which 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, according to unit members,” said Goldenberg. “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.”
In a statement Friday, the State Police said Koch had been a pilot with the agency since March 2016.
In addition to a pilot and crew member on many rescue and search missions, Koch also served as a division unit trainer, instrumental in the last year conducting annual training for division pilots.
He was recently honored by the Red Cross of Western New York for his role in the June 2020 rescue of an injured 11-year-old boy in Wyoming County.
Along with first responders on the ground, and a State Police crew in the air, the boy was hoisted more than 100 feet from a gorge and taken for medical care.
“The New York State Police thank him for his service to his country, and to the people of the State of New York,” said the agency.
In a statement Friday, Assemblyperson Marjorie Byrnes said there “are no words” that fully express the deep sadness Wednesday’s crash has wrought in the community.
“Our grief extends to Christian’s hometown of York, former home of Caledonia and throughout Livingston County where he was so active, and across our entire state. Our hearts break thinking of their families and the incredible sacrifice they have now made,” said Byrnes, whose 133rd Assembly District includes the town of Mendon, where the crash occurred. “All of these men deserve our deepest, most grateful honors and thanks because they chose a life of service, not only to serve in our military through the New York National Guard but, in Christian’s case also through a life of service in our State Police. It is truly remarkable and devastating for us all to lose such an extraordinarily civic-minded person. We thank him, and his family, for his service. It will not be forgotten.”
Koch leaves behind a wife, Teressa DaGama, and four children.
Two online fundraisers were created after Koch’s death.
The first was created by Koch’s sister-in-law, Aimee Koch, on GoFundMe.com.
“On January 20, 2021 Christian was sadly taken from his wife, children, family and community in the service of our Nation,” Aimee Koch wrote in the fundraiser’s description. “Christian leaves behind his wife Teressa, children Addison and Everett, and step children to whom he was a ‘bonus dad’ Talia and Ari as well as his loving extended family. Please help us to recognize his sacrifice and provide for the family.”
As of Friday morning, the fundraiser had raised more than $40,000 against a $20,000 goal.
To access the fundraiser, click here.
The other fundraiser was created by Sasha Milner on MealTrain.com. The fundraiser had raised more than $4,700 against a $5,000 goal as of Friday morning.
To access the MailTrain fundraiser, click here.
Skoda was a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Army and New York Army National Guard. In 1992, he became a pilot and began flying UH-1 helicopters from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester.
He was also a veteran of the Afghanistan War and deployed there in 2013 and 2019. He was a friend and mentor to all the soldiers in his unit, said Goldenberg, and supported the training and career progressions of hundreds of aircrews throughout his career.
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.
Like Koch and Skoda, 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, Ala., where the Army trains helicopter pilots.
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. At the time of his death, he was working as a federal technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport.
According to Goldenberg, Prial was known as 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, Goldenberg said.