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No distress call from helicopter, official says as probe of crash begins

National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Saturday moved the wreckage from the helicopter crash that killed Buffalo developer Mark Croce and his friend Michael Capriotto to a secure location for further examination.

Preliminary results from the investigation into the crash in a residential neighborhood in Central Pennsylvania Thursday night are expected to be released later this week, but they will not provide a cause for crash, according NTSB spokesman Terry Williams.

There was no distress call from the helicopter, a Robinson R66 Turbine, prior to the 8:30 p.m. crash, Williams said. The flight had taken off about 30 minutes earlier from an airport 10 miles east of downtown Baltimore.

“Some of the early information we gather will be released in the preliminary report and we may have some more details on the crash, but it will not have any analysis or determination of the cause,” Williams said Saturday.

Final reports determining the causes of crashes involving aircraft usually take 12 to 18 months, according to the NTSB’s website.

Also on Saturday, Tim Monville, an NTSB senior air safety investigator, was interviewing witnesses in the Silver Spring Township neighborhood where the helicopter went down in the backyard of a house. No one on the ground was injured.

Assisting Monville in different aspects of the investigation are officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and manufacturing representatives for the aircraft and its engine, according to Williams.

Police and the Cumberland County coroner at the scene Thursday night of the helicopter crash that killed Buffalo developer Mark Croce and Orchard Park businessman Michael Capriotto in Silver Spring Township, Pa. (Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com)

Other information that will be scrutinized includes weather conditions, radar tracking, flight and audio data, 911 calls alerting police to the crash, maintenance records for the helicopter and Croce’s experience as a pilot, according to the NTSB.

An autopsy on Croce could reveal whether he had experienced a medical emergency causing the crash, according to pilot Joseph DeMarco Sr., one of Croce’s closest friends and a business associate.

“Mark was brilliant. He was always really good with the technical stuff,” DeMarco said of Croce's piloting abilities. “We flew together at least 100 times.”

DeMarco and other friends have said that Croce and Capriotto were returning from a trip to check out gyroplanes because Croce was interested in buying one.

“Mark was all excited and had shown me pictures of the gyroplane he had test-flown previously. He was explaining how safe they were. He said if you lose the engine on a gyroplane, it will still glide. He said it is much safer than a helicopter. It’s just crazy the conversation we had, given what happened,” DeMarco said.

Many years ago, the two went in as partners and bought their first airplane.

“We didn’t even have pilot licenses,” DeMarco recalled and explained that the “tail number,” the plane’s registration number, “N432DC,” had special significance for them.

“The N starts every tail number. The 43 was because we were both 43 and the 2 was for the two of us. The DC stood for DeMarco and Croce,” DeMarco said, adding that as he bought different airplanes over the years he retained the same tail number.

DeMarco, who started Wings Flights of Hope providing free air transportation for medical patients and their families, said that as recently as two weeks ago he flew with Croce in the helicopter.

“This helicopter he had was top-notch. It had autopilot, which is very unheard-of in a helicopter, and terrain awareness,” DeMarco said. “Mark will forever be flying high as my copilot.”

He is not only mourning the loss of Croce, but Capriotto, who was DeMarco's cousin.

Perhaps the last person to have contact with Croce on the night he died was his best friend, Leon Tringali, the owner of Leon Studio One.

"I was always worried about Mark getting back safely even though he was one of the best private pilots. I texted him 10 minutes before the crash and he texted me saying that he'd talk to me when he got back," Tringali said.

Now Tringali says he is left with memories of the man he has known for more than 35 years and considered a brother.

'The personal side of Mark was very different from his public figure. He was a very compassionate person and loved the people around him, his wife, his sons, his brothers, Scotty and Todd, and his parents," Tringali said. "He was very generous, not just financially but with his time, and that is important."

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