Sheridan High grad killed in New York helicopter crash
SHERIDAN — Mackenzie "Mack" Bleth, a 2006 Sheridan High School graduate, was killed about noon Thursday when the helicopter he was piloting crashed on the banks of the Chemung River in downtown Corning, N.Y.
The location in upstate New York is a few miles west of Elmira/Corning Regional Airport.
Bleth, 24, was flying a McDonnell Douglas 369D for Haverfield Aviation of Gettysburg, Pa. A passenger, 41-year-old Dale Crout of Watkins Glen, N.Y., was also killed. He was employed as a lineman by New York State Electric and Gas and worked out of the Horseheads, N.Y. office.
Bleth was not married and had no children. Crout was married for 21 years and was the father of three children, two girls and a boy.
An employee of World Kitchen on the south side of the river told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin that the helicopter clipped a power line near its building first, knocking out electricity temporarily, and then crashed along a dike on the river.
Bleth and Crout were flying along power lines that come off the hill at the east end of the city, cross Interstate 86 and run along the Chemung River in downtown Corning, the Corning Leader newspaper reported.
The helicopter struck a cable atop the power lines near the end of Corning Boulevard, spun, crashed and exploded when it hit the ground, Corning Fire Chief John Tighe told the paper.
The aircraft was being used to inspect transmission lines, according to Clayton Ellis, a spokesman for New York State Electric and Gas, who spoke to the Associated Press. The utility was contracting with Haverfield.
The Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Haverfield Aviation are investigating the crash.
A Haverfield official could not be reached for comment, and there is no mention of the crash on its website.
“We are cooperating with the authorities that are investigating the crash," Ellis said. "NYSEG is deeply saddened by this tragic accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and co-workers of the two men who were killed in the crash.”
Bleth's mother, Michelle, is the Assistant Health Services Administrator for the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, and is a former Sheridan School Board member.
"We are fully supportive of Michelle and her family and are providing them with the suupport they need," FCI spokesperson Paul Thompson said. "We are respecting their wishes and privacy and given them the opportunity to grieve as a family during this tragic time."
Mackenzie went to work for Haverfield this year, according to his Facebook page. He previously worked for Coastal Helicopters in Juneau, Alaska, from 2010 to this year, and was a pilot during the final year of his employment. He worked at Hillsboro Aviation Inc. from 2008-2010.
His Facebook page bio, in part, reads: "Studied spending lots of money at Hillsboro Aviation Inc."
Sheridan Superintendent A.J. Grauer said she received a text message Friday morning from Faulconer Chapman School Principal Marti Hofenbredl informing her of Bleth's death.
Grauer taught at the high school before becoming the superintendent, and she remembers Bleth as a student in her social studies class. She said he would sit in the back of the classroom and do "silly things" in an effort to make her laugh.
"He was a fun-loving kid, and could be a practical joker," Grauer said. "Everyone just loved to be around him. He would do anything for anyone."
She added, "He loved his friends, his family, the outdoors. I remember a green Samurai the boys would take up in the hills. We wondered if they would come back."
Grauer said Bleth was adventurous, which she said undoubtedly played into his love for flying.
While it's not likely that any of Sheridan High's current students knew Bleth, many present staff members remember him, according to Grauer. She said they met as a group Friday morning.
"It's going to hit them hard," Grauer said. "He was well-known and liked. We'll set up what we call a safe room for anyone who wants to come in and talk about this or write a card or letter of condolence, and then send those on to the family."
Teacher Lori Bogen wrote, "I started to write this letter and I can't seem to finish. There are many young people who have come into my life, but none who had your unique combination of self-confidence and humor. Your smile was one to definitely light up any room. And I will truly miss you."
Karen Martin, a secretary, wrote, "Mack has the most contagous smile."
Teacher Beth Statts wrote, "Mack Bleth enjoyed life."
Kathy Byers, the Night Court coordinator, wrote, "When I think of Mackenzie — he was so full of life and love. A positive, great, great person.
Librarian Dolly Bagwell wrote, "When I think of Mack, I remember him as always having a big smile on his face. He was a happy go lucky, test the waters young man. His dream was to fly helicopters. He pursued and achieved that dream. We lost a terrific young man, doing what he loved to do."
Principal Dean Rech said he got to know Bleth through physical education and conditioning classes he taught.
"It is a tremendous loss for the community of Sheridan to have a young man like him pass away," he said.
Rech said Bleth was well liked by his classmates. He was funny, had a good sense of humor and was a hard worker.
It didn't matter where you were at — in class, out of class, at a football game, a basketball game — Bleth always had a smile on his face. "Mac loved life," Rech said.
He started to pursue his love of flying following graduation, and Rech said he still remembers Bleth once flying over the high school. "He talked about how much he loved being in the air."
Grauer said, "There are a lot of kids who were in his graduating class that are still in town. I'm contacting some teachers he had who have left. I got a text from one who is pretty sad about this."
That didn't surprise Grauer. "He was a great kid," she said.
Haverfield Aviation, Inc. is the leading provider of aerial power line inspection and construction support services both in the United States and abroad, according to its website. It claims to be the most efficient provider of energized line services in the U.S.
Haverfield has participated in many extensive inspection and maintenance projects across the country and in Canada, Panama, Australia and Africa. To date, Haverfield has performed services for virtually every major utility in the United States.