WEST WINDSOR TWP., N.J. - September 15, 2012 --A retired New York City police officer was killed Saturday when the small helicopter he was piloting crashed in a central New Jersey cornfield, authorities said. Michael Scarfia, 65, of Staten Island, N.Y., was identified by West Windsor police as the pilot of the Aerospatiale AS355 twin-engine helicopter that went down shortly after noon in West Windsor. Scarfia apparently was the only person aboard. The aircraft burst into flames upon impact, but no one on the ground was injured, authorities said. "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 said in a news release. It was not immediately clear what caused the accident. Garofalo said several people reported that a flock of birds appeared to make contact with the helicopter shortly before it crashed. He said authorities still were investigating those reports Saturday evening. "Eyewitnesses said they saw pieces of (the helicopter) coming apart, including the main rotor of the helicopter itself," Garofalo said during an earlier news conference held near the crash scene. Several witnesses also reported hearing grinding noises and possible explosions shortly before the helicopter went down in the field near Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road in the Mercer County community. Authorities said the pilot did not report any trouble or make any emergency transmissions. The FAA says the privately owned helicopter was traveling from Princeton to Atlantic City when officials say something went wrong. "It looks like some kind of rotor, some kind of engine problem that exploded in the air," said Lt. Garofalo. "We do have eyewitness accounts that said there was a flock of birds in the area they did not see any kind of manual intervention or anything that could have caused this." Scattered debris Mixed with mangled shrubs, weeds and crops on the former site of American Cyanamid, an agricultural research company, made responding to and investigating the crash difficult. NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Bob Gretz said in a press conference held Saturday evening, the small Twin Star helicopter was initially in contact with air traffic control, but later disappeared from radar. "There was no distress call, no radio contact," he said. Gretz says NTSB investigations generally run for 6 to 12 months, but he asked for help from area residents. "There was a strong smell of fuel at the scene. One thing I did want to reach out to the public about, it was a 3-bladed helicopter; we have not accounted for one rotor blade. If anyone does find a rotor blade, please call local police," said Gretz. Investigators from Washington, D.C. will be on the scene of the accident on Sunday West Windsor police, the Federal Aviation Administration and New Jersey State Police were also involved in the investigation.
September 16, 2012 3:14:44 AM PDT
By Jennifer Joyce and Action News and Associated Press