MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Federal investigators were at the scene of a deadly helicopter crash for hours Friday and plan to return Saturday. The National Transportation Safety Board says the weeks to months-long process to determine a cause is just beginning.
The Cumberland County coroner says pilot 58-year-old Mark Croce and passenger 63-year-old Michael Capriotto were killed. Both were from Orchard Park, New York.
“What sounded like a normal helicopter noise at first, and then it got really loud, started sputtering,” said Mike Brion, who owns the property where the helicopter crashed. “There was a bang before it actually hit the ground, and then just a large crash.”
Brion was putting his two young daughters to bed Thursday night when his house shook.
“First, I didn’t know if we got bombed or if someone dropped a huge drone in our yard,” Brion SAOD. “I guess the last thing we expected was for somebody to crash a big helicopter in the backyard.”
It was just 20 feet away.
He walked outside to a gruesome scene.
“The propeller ended up almost a block that way,” said Brion.
Brion’s yard is at the intersection of Irongate Court and Surrey Lane in Silver Spring Township, and it’s been full of investigators ever since the aircraft went down.
The helicopter missed his home and everyone else’s in the neighborhood.
“We’re just very fortunate,” Brion said.
The NTSB is leading the investigation. Multiple local agencies have been on the site to assist.
“NTSB will, as part of the investigation, follow up as necessary with witnesses to get firsthand accounts,” said senior air safety investigator, Tim Monville. Other parts of the investigation include gathering air traffic control data, audio, radar.”
Investigators also spent part of the day Friday combing the neighborhood for debris and parts of the helicopter. Pieces could be found hundreds of yards away from where the chopper went down.
“One of the most outlying pieces was about a five-foot section of a main rotor blade,” said Monville. “The process is to identify its location, identify what it is, photograph, notes. There was a strong smell of fuel, both at the intersection of two roads here, and near the main wreckage.”
“Even though most of the helicopter is in one spot, there’s metal parts, hoses, there’s even some up in one of the trees,” said Brion.
Monville said his team will also examine the weather at the time of the crash, the pilot’s history and experience, as well as aircraft maintenance records.
He said the chopper, which was owned by Croce’s company Redmark Capital, was insured. That, he said, will help to expedite the recovery process.
“I’m expecting a call from a recovery crew to see what their schedule is to recover it,” Monville said.
Croce was a licensed pilot and owned the chopper for less than a year before the crash.
According to our sister station WIVB in Buffalo, New York, the helicopter left there just after noon Thursday. A little after 2 p.m., it landed at Bay Bridge Airport on Kent Island, Maryland. A man at that airport told WIVB that Croce asked him if they had jet fuel, but they did not so he indicated he may go to Martin State Airport in Baltimore later.
Just before 7 p.m., the Robinson R66 landed at Martin State Airport northeast of Baltimore for about an hour, then departed at 7:59 p.m. According to FlightAware24.com, the flight path indicated he was headed toward HIA, but 30 minutes after he took off from Baltimore, the aircraft crashed.
In their native Western New York, the community is mourning two influential leaders.
Croce owned two restaurants, a wedding venue, and a five-star boutique hotel. He was referred to by local leaders as the catalyst for revitalization in downtown Buffalo.
Capriotto also owned multiple businesses and was known for his devotion to Orchard Park. The town’s mayor called him a “pillar of the community.”
“I think the only word I have is surreal,” said Brion. “It was great to have the neighbors to come out. We had six or eight guys out here, so if there was anything we could have done. We had plenty of people here to do it. But it was just crazy.”
The chopper is expected to stay in the yard at least until Saturday, with Monville sharing the on-site investigation could be as long as four days. Within a week, he expects the NTSB will release a preliminary report. A comprehensive report, with a cause and pre-crash data, could take as long as 18 months.
Monville, citing information from the FAA, said there was no distress call made from Croce’s cockpit prior to the crash.
“We’re just beginning. We have a long way to go to understand what occurred.”