Mike Brion had just put his daughters, 6 and 8, to bed at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday when he heard the noise.
It sounded like a helicopter, but much louder than normal.
It’s not uncommon for helicopters to fly over his home in the Stonecrest development just north of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The development is in the flightpath between Hershey and Carlisle and the Life Lion medevac chopper often flies over, transporting patients to and from the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
It sounded close, as if it were flying low over the neighborhood.
Then, he heard a sputtering sound.
And then, he heard a bang.
And then, he heard a loud noise, the sound of the chopper hitting the ground. It sounded close, and it was.
‘You don’t expect a helicopter to crash in your backyard’
“It sounded like a bomb going off in my yard,” said Brion, who has lived in the upscale development since 2005, moving here from Tioga County for a job in tech.
He wasn’t sure what happened. “I was wondering what’s going on here? Are we under attack?” he said. “You don’t expect a helicopter to crash in your backyard.”
He opened a window and looked outside. The helicopter’s frame was a pile of rubble in the middle of his yard. Pieces of the aircraft were scattered about. A piece of the helicopter was snagged in a tree.
He called 911 and went outside to investigate. Some of his neighbors came over to see what had happened.
He made a grisly discovery. One man was still in the helicopter, apparently dead, the impact taking his life. He hadn’t even known there was another body in his yard. That man’s body had been thrown into the back, dark corner, discovered by a police officer later.
Businessmen from Buffalo area killed in crash
The two men – the pilot, Mark D. Croce, 58, and his passenger, Michael Capriotto, 63, both of Orchard Park, New York, just south of Buffalo – were traveling from Washington, D.C., to Buffalo when the crash occurred, according to authorities.
No one on the ground was injured. Nor was any damage reported to homes in the development. Brion said the helicopter didn’t even hit his fence, the damage limited to a bush and a playset in the yard.
Croce, described as a very experienced pilot, was a well-known developer in Buffalo, credited with spearheading the city’s downtown resurgence.
“I am deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic passing of my dear friend Mark Croce,’ Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said in a statement posted on Facebook.
“As owner of the Buffalo Chophouse, the Curtiss Hotel and Statler City, Mark was a big part of our downtown resurgence, adding jobs for residents and creating destinations that have brought many visitors to the City of Buffalo. His presence will be sorely missed.”
Capriotto was a businessman and former village trustee in Orchard Park, known for his philanthropy and support of community organizations. Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw said, in a statement reported by the Buffalo News, that Capriotto “always said ‘yes’ and answered the call when people or charitable causes needed help.”
‘Surreal’ scene in neighborhood
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash. Friday morning, investigators flew a small drone over the crash site in an apparent effort to map the debris field.
Brion said debris from the helicopter was strewn for blocks throughout the development.
Neighbors said it was a miracle that nobody on the ground was injured or killed. “It really is,” said Ralph Spangler, who lives about a block and a half away from the crash site.
Spangler said he and his wife were watching a show on Investigation Discovery when he heard the helicopter fly over, low. “I could hear the props going, but it sounded funny,” he said.
Spangler walked by his neighbor’s house at the corner of Surry Lane and Irongate Court Friday morning to catch a glimpse of the crash site.
“It’s really weird,” he said. “I guess it could happen anywhere.”
Brion described the crash as “surreal” and “just about the most bizarre thing imaginable.”
“Just shock,” he said. “My daughters’ bedrooms are in the back of the house. How do I explain what happened to them?”
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