Friday, December 9, 2022

After the crash: Helicopter pilot’s plane, tools up for auction; residents rebuild their lives

A 10-unit condo building has been condemned after a helicopter crashed into it Sunday, July 8, 2018, in the Bristol Commons complex in Williamsburg. Two people died in the crash and resulting fire. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)
A 10-unit condo building has been condemned after a helicopter crashed into it Sunday, July 8, 2018, in the Bristol Commons complex in Williamsburg. Two people died in the crash and resulting fire. (WYDaily file photo)

The property of an 85-year-old pilot whose helicopter crashed into a Williamsburg neighborhood last July is up for auction in Fredericksburg.

The property is part of his estate sale and includes an unfinished Seawind 300 Turboprop Seaplane, golf cart, trailer, portable fuel tank, tools and more.

The online-only auction lists dozens of items housed in 2.5 of Henry Schwarz’s hangars in Fredericksburg, said Stafford Regional Airport Manager, Edward Wallis. The auction site does not specify the exact location of the items, stating the location will be posted after the 5 p.m. inspection time Feb. 7.

The auction, hosted by Rasmus Auctioneers, closes on Feb. 8 beginning at 11:07 a.m.

The length of time between Schwarz’s death and the sale of his items is at the discretion of Schwarz’s estate attorney, Wallis said. Schwarz’s estate attorney will also decide where the money from the sales goes.

In addition, he said that’s only the second time in 18 years the airport has had an auction of tools and equipment after the death of their owner.

Schwarz’s helicopter crashed into a condominium unit on Settlement Drive in the Bristol Commons neighborhood July 8.

The crash killed a 91-year-old resident, Jean Lonchak Danylko, and Schwarz, and destroyed the homes and belongings of numerous residents.

The crash

Schwarz’s four-seat, single-engine Robinson R44 helicopter left the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport around 4:30 p.m. Sunday and flew about a mile before crashing into a 10-unit building in the Bristol Commons neighborhood.

The helicopter ended up “halfway between the front and back” of the condo building, located in the 1100 block of Settlement Drive.

The day after the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board investigators said they believed Schwarz was properly certified — later determined to be untrue, according to the letter from Pathfinder Indemnity Co.

A couple weeks after the crash, the NTSB released a preliminary report with additional details.

It said the Robinson R-44 helicopter climbed to about 1,700 feet and headed north at about 110 knots (127 mph), according to the report. About 90 seconds later, the aircraft began a “right decreasing radius turn” near the crash site and started descending at a rate greater than 10,000 feet per minute.

According to the report, the helicopter’s logbooks show it underwent an annual inspection on Aug. 24, 2017, several months after Schwarz’s medical certificate was revoked. The inspection was performed by Robinson Helicopter Co., the maker of the aircraft.

Schwarz had 5,693 total hours of flight experience, of which 1,919 hours were in helicopters with 545 of those hours in a Robinson R44, according to the report.

The Robinson R-44 also has a “statistically higher” crash rate compared to other helicopters, an aviation lawyer told WYDaily.

Rebuilding

Between dealing with insurance companies, retrieving items and trying to move past the trauma, rebuilding life after the crash hasn’t been easy for some residents.

Former Bristol Commons resident and art conservator Emily Wroczynski rented the condo next to Danylko, the resident killed in the crash. Wroczynski’s pet hedgehog was also killed in the blaze caused by the crash, and she lost most of her belongings and tools for her craft.

“Our Pyrex dishes were melted — I lost 10 years of my life in that apartment,” Wroczynski said.

A former employee of Colonial Williamsburg, Wroczynski said her unit, 1102 Settlement Drive, was the point of direct impact by the helicopter. Wroczynski and her fiance were on an overnight trip in Hampton when the crash happened — the same day they got engaged.

Wroczynski said she believes many different entities are at fault for the crash and ensuing issues during recovery operations, including miscommunications between renters, homeowners, the homeowners association at Bristol Commons, and the homeowners association’s insurance, Nationwide Insurance.

“There was never a clear point person in charge of anything — no clear information about how to move forward,” Wroczynski said.

For several months, there was back-and-forth and confusion about who would let Wroczynski or her fiancé into the crash site to retrieve the belongings she could salvage.

Wroczynski now lives in Texas — she had been offered a new job before the crash and planned to move anyway — but, in some ways, she’s still tied to Williamsburg.

One of the things still underway is an insurance claim for a valuable epifluorescence microscope that was destroyed during the crash.

“People have asked me, like ‘Aren’t you angry?’” Wroczynski said. “I was. Now, the only thing I’d love to see is some positive change.”

WYDaily reporter Alexa Doiron contributed to this report.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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