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April 26, 2022 - 4:10pm

Edgerton Road resident heard a helicopter in trouble before Mercy Flight crash in Elba

posted by Howard B. Owens in Mercy Flight, elba, accident, news, notify.

Charlene Schultz is used to hearing helicopters over her house on Edgerton Road in Elba.  She seems to live in a flight path for both the military and Mercy Flight. So she knows what a helicopter passing overhead sounds like when all is all right.

Shortly before 1 p.m. today, she knew she heard a helicopter that was in trouble.

"The motor sounded weird," Schultz said. "You know when you start your car and it goes woo-woo? That's what it sounds like to me twice. Like it won't start. Then it went out completely. Then it came back on and I heard the Big Bang."

She speculated the pilot managed to get the motor started again as the helicopter was heading down but it was too late.

She went outside expecting to see smoke but there was no smoke.  She got in her car and drove to the scene.

"Three men stopped me and I was from here to your car (less than 50 yards) and saw what I didn't want to see. So I turned around and came back home."

Major Eugene Staniszewski, State Police, confirmed this afternoon that two crew members aboard the flight died in the crash. Their names have not yet been released.

The cause of the accident is under investigation. Investigators from both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been dispatched to the scene.

"We will be here for quite a while," Staniszewski said. "This could be into tomorrow while we're still on scene and then after that, it usually takes quite a while, it could be months until they come up with a final determination (as to the cause of the crash)."

The helicopter was on a training mission, Staniszewski confirmed, and it was flying out of the Mercy base at the Genesee County Airport. 

The major said there is at least one person who saw the helicopter go down and several who heard the helicopter in the area.

One neighbor said she saw a Mercy Flight helicopter circle the area before she and her husband went to Walmart.  They only learned of the crash while at the store and returned home immediately.  Schultz, however, said she believes the helicopter that circled the scene showed up after the crash.  She said when she first saw it, she hoped it was a sign that the crew survived but then the Mercy Flight helicopter left without landing.

"We are interviewing several witnesses and local neighbors that live on this road," Staniszewski said. "We'll be working with Mercy Flight and NTSB and FAA to come up with a reason for this crash."

UPDATE:  The pilot was James E. Sauer, 60 of Churchville. The second person was a Bell Helicopter employee and pilot, Stewart M. Dietrick, 60 of Prosper, Texas. They were flying a Bell 429 that was based in Batavia. They were pronounced dead at the scene and taken to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office.

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An unidentified helicopter circled the scene an hour or so after the accident.

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Power lines were cut because lines had fallen dangerously close to the helicopter, impeding the investigation.

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File photo of a Mercy Flight helicopter taken April 24 at GCC following a serious injury accident at Clinton Street Road and Seven Springs Road. Photos by Howard Owens.

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