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3 National Guard members dead after helicopter crash near Rochester

Victoria E. Freile
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

MENDON, NY — Three soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Mendon Wednesday night, according to the New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs.

Authorities said that a New York Army National Guard UH-60 medical evacuation helicopter based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Greater Rochester International Airport crashed while on a routine training mission.

The crash was reported shortly after 6:30 p.m. in a field near West Bloomfield Road, between Cheese Factory and Boughton Hill roads, just southeast of Mendon Ponds Park.

A source familiar with the incident said that all three soldiers killed were men. Their families were being informed.

UPDATE:National Guard members killed in helicopter crash identified

"This is a heavy, heavy burden upon all of us," said Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter at a news conference Wednesday night. "These are our freedom providers... just showing again that freedom is not free. We lost three great Americans today in the service of our country."

A military helicopter burns after a crash near West Bloomfield and Cheese Factory roads in Mendon on Jan. 20, 2021. Three soldiers aboard died.

According to preliminary 911 reports, "there were calls of sputtering sounds of an engine, and that the aircraft was flying very low, more low than normal," Baxter said.

Shortly after the calls,  there were reports of a crash.

Baxter said authorities have been in contact with the control tower at the Greater Rochester International Airport, but have not reviewed whether those on board the helicopter were communicating with anyone in the tower at the time of the crash. 

He said he did not know the helicopter's flight plan, but authorities are working to "identify the path of the aircraft and what the debris field looks like."

The New York National Guard is en route to Mendon and will conduct a joint investigation, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, Baxter said. Deputies will complete a preliminary investigation of the crash and expect to remain at the scene overnight and on Thursday.

The aircraft was assigned to C Company of the 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation Battalion, according to New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs.

"This is a very tight-knit unit," Baxter said, adding that a lot of people and family are responding to the National Guard Center on the backside of the airport.

"I am devastated by the news tonight of a New York Army National Guard helicopter crash in the Town of Mendon that killed three of New York's bravest during a training mission," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said late Wednesday.

"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 who we will never forget," he said.

Cuomo said he is directing flags on all state buildings be lowered to half-staff Thursday.

“I am heartbroken by the news that three of New York’s brave Army National Guardsmen have been killed in a helicopter crash during a training mission," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY. "These National Guard members answered the call to help and serve their fellow New Yorkers and their country, and their sacrifices will never be forgotten. I send my deepest condolences to the loved ones of those soldiers killed, and the entire Monroe County community.”

A New York State Police helicopter assisted in the search for any potential survivors from the air, hovering over the crash site. The debris field extends "over what I'd describe as a few city blocks," roughly hundreds of feet in each direction from the crash site, Baxter said.

Mendon Fire Chief Peter Kester said the helicopter was on fire when first responders arrived at the scene. The airport's fire department were also called to the scene to extinguish the fire, he said.

While there are houses near the crash site, Baxter said no buildings were struck.

West Bloomfield Road, between Cheese Factory and Boughton Hill roads is closed as authorities investigate at the scene. Expect the road to be closed through at least midday Thursday.