College of William and Mary students and parents received an emergency alert from the TribeAlert emergency notification system Sunday, July 8 at 4:55 p.m. stating that an “aviation incident” had occurred near the Dillard Complex.
Approximately 20 minutes earlier, a small helicopter had crashed into the 1100 building of the Bristol Commons apartment complex, where the impact caused a large fire. The apartments are across the street from the Dillard Complex, although College spokesperson Suzanne Seurattan said in an email that the university’s property was not damaged.
Virginia State Police Sergeant Michelle Anaya said in a press release that the Williamsburg Fire Department, Williamsburg Police Department and the Virginia State Police Department all responded to a 911 call at the building. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board also responded to the scene. Members of the WFD worked overnight to put out fires and hotspots in the building.
Jennie Cuddeback ’19 lives in the building that was damaged, but was out of the country when the crash occurred. She said that, in addition to her roommate, she had two friends staying in her apartment for the summer.
“Right now, my roommate and I are just thankful that no one was in our apartment when it hit,” Cuddeback said in a written statement. “The four of us have lost a lot of material items, but most of them can be replaced.”
There were 10 units total in the building, and according to Cuddeback, the building has been almost completely destroyed due to the combination of the crash, the fire and the water damage from the emergency response.
“We’re also upset to have learned about the death of one of our neighbors, and we’re thinking of her family and loved ones, and those of the helicopter pilot,” Cuddeback said.
According to the VSP press release, as of 12:35 p.m. Monday July 9, there are two confirmed fatalities.
The first was Jean Lonchak Danylko, 91, who lived in one of the units beneath the crash. She is survived by her son, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.
President of the Virginia Helicopter Association Henry Schwarz, who has been identified as the pilot, was also found dead according to Operator of the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport Charley Rogers.
The VSP also has reported other unspecified injuries.
In a press conference at 3 p.m. July 9, officials from NTSB said that the helicopter left the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport around 4:30 p.m. July 8, and that the pilot was the only person on board.
The helicopter had four seats, one engine, and was “about the size of a small car with a helicopter tail” according to NTSB spokesperson Doug Brady.
It is unknown where the helicopter entered the complex, although it was found in the middle of the apartment building after the initial crash and subsequent emergency response.
The helicopter’s intended destination is still unknown and the investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.
Melissa Hudson ’19, a roommate of Cuddeback’s, said that police officers told her that it was unclear if the building was stable enough for residents to attempt to salvage belongings, and that they would not come to a decision on the matter until Monday evening at the earliest.