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Croce was flying new Robinson helicopter; safety questions have been raised

Developer Mark Croce was piloting a 2019 Robinson R66 Turbine helicopter when it crashed Thursday night in Central Pennsylvania, killing Croce and his friend, Michael Capriotto.

The Robinson R66 can carry up to five passengers and travel up to 350 miles without refueling, according to information on the manufacturer's website. Fully loaded with passengers, it can cruise at up to 126 mph, although it can move faster with fewer passengers, as was the case with the Croce flight. It has a Rolls Royce engine.

The chopper can climb more than 1,000 feet per minute and can fly at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet, the company said.

The privately held Robinson Helicopter Co., formed in 1973, is among the word's largest helicopter manufacturers. It has three products: the R22 and R44, which feature piston engines, and the R66, which has a turbine engine.

There are questions, though, about the safety of some of Robinson's products. A 2018 Los Angeles Times investigation found that the Robinson R44s were involved in 42 deadly crashes between 2006 and 2016, more than any other commercial helicopter. And the R66 – the model Croce flew – has also been involved in several fatal crashes that have produced lawsuits.

Croce's chopper was issued a flight certificate last March 12. According to Robinson Helicopter Company's website, the retail for a standard R66 is $906,000.

The FAA registry shows that Redmark Capital LLC owned the aircraft. Redmark Capital's address is 257 Franklin St. in Buffalo, which is the site of three of Croce's business establishments: Sky Bar, D'Arcy McGee's and the LiFT Nightclub.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting the investigation into the crash.

Local aviation experts say the NTSB is likely looking into an array of factors including the weather, if the aircraft didn't have enough fuel or the wrong kind of fuel, if the helicopter experienced engine failure, whether Croce had a medical emergency or became disoriented because of night-time flying.

Staff Reporters Aaron Besecker and Lou Michel contributed to this report.

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