Three soldiers killed in NY Guard helicopter crash were warrant officers who served in Afghanistan
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 22, 2021
Three warrant officers and combat veterans from the New York Army National Guard were killed Wednesday when the UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter that they were flying crashed, the service said Friday.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial were all pilots assigned to C Company of the 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation Battalion based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Rochester International Airport, according to the New York Army National Guard. The unit trains to perform aeromedical evacuation and the crew had been conducting night vision goggle proficiency training in the local training area.
“These soldiers were a part of our National Guard family and we mourn their loss, alongside their family members and loved ones,” the Guard said in a statement.
An Army safety investigation team arrived Thursday from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., to begin its analysis of the accident, according to the Guard.
The helicopter crashed in a farmer's field in rural Mendon, south of Rochester, at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, The Associated Press reported. Witnesses who called 911 reported hearing the sounds of an engine sputtering and said the helicopter was flying very low.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda
Skoda, 54, spent 35 years serving in the Army and the New York Army National Guard, according to the Guard. He served in the Army from 1985 to 1987 and then transitioned to the Guard.
In 1992, he became a pilot and began flying UH-1 “Huey” helicopters from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester. During his career, he also learned to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk A and L models, the OH-58 Kiowa, the AH-1 Cobra and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.
Skoda deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 and 2019, according to Guard. 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,” the Guard said.
Outside of his job as a pilot for the 171st Battalion, he worked as a full-time National Guard technician at the Army’s support facility at the Rochester airport since 1999. A National Guard technician is a federal employee who must also serve in the National Guard as a condition of employment.
Soldiers at the facility described Skoda as “a friend and mentor to all the soldiers in his unit, supporting the training and career progressions of hundreds of aircrews throughout his career,” the Guard said.
He lived in Rochester and was single.
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.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch
Koch, 39, served 20 years in the New York Army National Guard, first as an infantryman in A Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, according to the Guard. He became a helicopter pilot in 2006, flying from the Army facility at the Rochester airport.
Koch was rated to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk A and L models, as well as the CH-47 Chinook, according to the Guard. He had 2,350 flying hours. He held a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the College at Brockport, State University of New York.
Koch deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2012. He served in 2004 as part of Operation Noble Eagle, the National Guard security mission in the United States after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
“His hard work and drive lead him to becoming the senior instructor pilot for the unit,” the Guard said. “His motivation and infectious personality made him a great soldier, leader and father, according to unit members.”
Koch also served as the instrument flight instructor for the unit. In civilian life, he worked as a civilian pilot for the New York State Police since 2016.
With the state police, he served on many search and rescue missions and conducted annual training for other pilots, according to a news release about Koch’s death. The Red Cross of Western New York honored Koch recently for his role in the June 2020 rescue of an injured 11-year-old boy. 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,” police said.
Koch lived in Honeoye Falls with his wife Teressa DaGama and their four children. A Go Fund Me page to support his family has raised more than $43,000 from nearly 500 donors.
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.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial
Prial, 30, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2012 and commissioned as an Army officer, according to the Guard. 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 and served as an instructor pilot for students at Fort Rucker, 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, according to the Guard. He also worked as a federal technician at the Army facility at the Rochester airport.
He was single and lived in Rochester.
He was rated to fly the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and had 670 flying hours.
Soldiers in the unit described Prial as “extremely humble and family centric. He had an ability to fit in quickly and make an immediate impact on new groups,” the Guard said.
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.
“The New York National Guard will be there for these family members as they navigate these trying times,” the Guard said. “Our chaplains and casualty assistance officers will be with them whenever needed.