National Guard soldiers identified, honored as helicopter crash investigation continues

Jan 22, 2021

BREAKING FRIDAY MORNING: The National Guard has identified those killed in Wednesday night's crash of a military helicopter in Mendon, outside Rochester. They were Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda
Credit New York National Guard

Skoda was described as a 35-year veteran of the Army and the New York Army National Guard who was single and lived in Rochester. He served in the Active Army 1985-1987. He joined the National Guard 1987. He also earned numerous medals and citations.

"Skoda was a veteran of the Afghanistan War who deployed there in 2013 and 2019," said a Guard press release. "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."

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch
Credit New York National Guard

Koch was a 20-year veteran of the Guard, initially serving as an infantryman. He became a helicopter pilot in 2006 and later Senior Instructor Pilot.

"Koch was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012- 2013 and served in Iraq in 2008-2009. 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," the Guard said.

In civilian life, Koch worked as a civilian pilot for the New York State Police, lived in Honeoye Falls and was married to Teressa DaGama.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial
Credit New York National Guard

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 and had 670 flying hours.

"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, Alabama, where the Army trains helicopter pilots," the Guard said.

Like Skoda, he worked as a federal technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester International Airport, a position that requires Guard participation for employment. Prial earned numerous medals, was single and lived in Rochester.

The three soldiers were honored on Thursday. There were two processions involving a number of area first responders including police and fire vehicles as the bodies of the three National Guard soldiers were brought from the crash site to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office in Brighton.

The U.S. Army is now the lead investigating agency into the crash of the medevac Blackhawk helicopter which was on a training mission at the time.

The Sheriff’s Department got numerous 911 calls when the crash happened about the aircraft flying unusually low and sounding like the engine was sputtering.

The chopper is based at an Army Aviation Support Facility at the Rochester Airport and County Executive Adam Bello asked for the community’s support in dealing with this tragedy.

“I’m asking that we all please remember their service and sacrifice, lend a hand in support of their families and keep their friends and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” Bello said on Thursday.

The soldiers, who’ve not yet been identified, were members of a  medical evacuation unit which has about 80 members. About half of the unit spent most of 2019 deployed in Afghanistan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also directed flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff on Thursday to pay tribute to the National Guard members.    

The Associated Press contributed to this story.