Investigation Into Fatal West Windsor Helicopter Crash Continues

While the National Transportation Safety Board wraps up their on-site investigation, it could be months before the cause of the fiery crash is determined

A Staten Island man was killed Saturday afternoon after the Aerospatiale AS355 twin-engine helicopter he was piloting crashed into cornfields located on the former American Cyanamid Agricultural Research Facility property in West Windsor along Quaker Bridge Road.

West Windsor police identified the pilot as Michael Scarfia, 65, a retired New York City police officer. He was the only person aboard the helicopter at the time.

"Scarfia dedicated his life to the city of New York as a police officer, and by diverting his failing helicopter into the cornfield and away from crowded shopping malls, he again showed his bravery and dedication to others," West Windsor Police Lt. Robert Garofalo wrote in a release.

Garofalo said during a news conference Saturday that eyewitnesses said they saw pieces of the helicopter coming apart, including the main rotor of the helicopter. The aircraft reportedly burst into flames upon impact, but no one on the ground was injured. Authorities said Scarfia did not report any trouble or make any emergency transmissions.

Information about Scarfia is still limited at this time, but investigators believe he was a part-time pilot that flew fairly frequently with Analar Corp. in Princeton. At the time of the accident, Scarfia was reportedly flying from Princeton Airport to Atlantic City International Airport to pick up a passenger and return the passenger to Princeton Airport.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene of the accident Sunday documenting the crash site. NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Bob Gretz estimated cleanup would be completed in the evening.

Contrary to what has recently been reported in the media, Gretz said there is no evidence at this point that a flock of birds caused the crash. He said of the 15 to 20 witnesses he spoke to, only one mentioned seeing birds in the vicinity around the time of the crash. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

The wreckage will be loaded onto flatbed trucks, taken to secure hangers in Delaware, and stored for examination, Gretz said. He said about 20 percent of the helicopter remains after the fire.

Gretz said authorities are still searching for the third rotor blade.

“It could turn up tomorrow, it could turn up in six months, it could never turn up,” he said.

A complete investigation of the crash is expected to last from six to 12 months, Gretz said.

NTSB will investigate Scarfia’s overall and recent flight experience, overall and recent maintenance on the helicopter, and radar data, weather, and other environmental components, among other things, over the next six months.

Gretz said NTSB will send the aircraft’s engines to the Rolls-Royce engine manufacture facility in Indianapolis, while sending parts of the helicopter transmission and the rotor to NTSB’s lab in Washington, D.C. for examination.

Once Gretz compiles all the data into a factual report for the Safety Board, the Board will issue a statement of probable cause, which could take up to 12 months after the accident.

NTSB will post a preliminary report on the www.NTSB.gov website as early as Thursday and up to 10 days after the incident, however.

“I just keep an open mind and keep documenting, and it’s just so early in the investigation,” Gretz said.

Stuart Bothwell September 17, 2012 at 04:35 AM
You might want to inform the NTSB and/or the local PD that you witnessed the accident in NJ. You can get the phone number off the NTSB.gov web-site.
Josh Beutel September 17, 2012 at 05:19 AM
I just email the nstb
Dan F September 17, 2012 at 05:49 AM
Emergency helicopters fly over my home en route to RWJ. Something like this is always in the back of my mind.
BOB LECH September 18, 2012 at 12:18 PM
That chopper has a reputation for hydraulic problems and servos. The belt that drives the pump is supposed to be good for 600 hours but some have failed in less then 400 hours My prayers go out for that pilot. Even being retired he still went above the call of duty and gave all he had to protect the citizen. RIP HERO *Michael Scarfia*
Joe Friend September 30, 2012 at 01:35 PM
You, sir obviously have no idea what you're taking about. Don't spread false rumors about an aircraft you have no knowledge of. The AS355F has no belt driven pump like the AS350 single engine variant. As far as the belt driven ones go, I have not seen a failure in my 15 years and tens of thousands of helicopter flight hours as a helicopter mechanic. Even still, the loss of hydraulic power does not make an aircraft come apart in flight.


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