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.