In­sur­ance com­pany won’t pay for dam­age af­ter deadly ac­ci­dent

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Steve Roberts Jr Staff writer Steve Roberts Jr, 757-604-1329, srobert­[email protected], @SPRobert­sJr

The 85-year-old who crashed his he­li­copter into a Wil­liams­burg com­plex in July had his med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate to fly re­voked by the FAA, ac­cord­ing to his in­sur­ance com­pany.

WIL­LIAMS­BURG — Be­fore the fiery crash that left two peo­ple dead and dozens dis­placed, the pi­lot who crashed his he­li­copter into Bris­tol Com­mons in July had his med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate to fly re­voked by the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In a letter to home­own­ers deny­ing an in­sur­ance pay­out for the de­struc­tion at the Wil­liams­burg com­plex, pi­lot Henry “Hank” Schwarz’s in­sur­ance com­pany said Schwarz flew il­le­gally.

“Based on our in­ves­ti­ga­tion .. that in­sur­ance cov­er­age ... in­clud­ing all claims for in­juries, dam­ages and losses re­lated thereto that are or may be as­serted by your client and/or by any third par­ties, is hereby de­nied,” the letter ob­tained by The Vir­ginia Gazette said.

Schwarz’s care­taker said he had health prob­lems, in­clud­ing Parkin­son’s Dis­ease, which would have re­quired the FAA to decide whether he was fit to fly.

On July 8, 2018, a Robin­son R44 he­li­copter pi­loted by Schwarz plum­meted into a 10-unit res­i­den­tial com­plex, killing Schwarz and 91-year-old res­i­dent Jean Lon­chak Danylko.

The crash and the en­su­ing in­ferno de­stroyed the build­ing. On Mon­day, Bris­tol Com­mons home­own­ers sub­mit­ted an ar­chi­tec­tural build­ing plan to Wil­liams­burg city plan­ners.

Bris­tol Com­mons Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion board mem­ber Paul Les­lie said in an ad­dress to home­own­ers at a Tues­day night meet­ing that Na­tion­wide In­sur­ance will soon give the or­ga­ni­za­tion about $1.5 mil­lion for the re­build.

How­ever, he also said there’s no set date for the end of the de­mo­li­tion of the burned out re­mains of the build­ing.

Un­fit to fly

The in­sur­ance letter from Pathfinder In­dem­nity Com­pany Lim­ited in­di­cates the FAA re­viewed and re­voked Schwarz’s med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate on May 30, 2017 — more than a year be­fore the crash. That cer­tifi­cate would have val­i­dated his Class 2 pi­lot’s li­cense with med­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions; with­out it, Schwarz flew il­le­gally.

The FAA de­manded Schwarz turn over his med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate due to the agency’s find­ings within 14 days or face pu­n­ish­ment, ac­cord­ing to the letter. It’s un­clear whether or not Schwarz turned in his cer­tifi­cate.

Ac­cord­ing to Schwarz’s care­taker, Theresa Mon­roe, that di­ag­no­sis was Parkin­son’s Dis­ease, which he was di­ag­nosed with five years ago.

Both Schwarz and his wife needed a neu­rol­o­gist to tend to their de­gen­er­a­tive neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions: his Parkin­son’s, her de­men­tia, Mon­roe said.

Mon­roe mar­ried Schwarz’s wid­owed son-in-law af­ter Schwarz’s daugh­ter died from cancer sev­eral years ear­lier. Mon­roe helped Schwarz find a neu­rol­o­gist in Alexan­dria so he and his wife could re­ceive treat­ment.

Mon­roe drove the Sch­warzes to and from most med­i­cal ap­point­ments, she said. Once, while sit­ting in on a doc­tor’s visit with the pair, Mon­roe said the doc­tor told Schwarz “When it’s your turn for the ap­point­ment, we’ll talk about your Parkin­son’s.”

Parkin­son’s Dis­ease is the sec­ond most com­mon de­gen­er­a­tive neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease in the United States. It oc­curs as parts of the brain, which con­trol move­ment, se­lec­tively die off, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. As symp­toms be­come more ag­gres­sive, tremors, body shakes, dif­fi­culty walk­ing and cog­ni­tive de­cline can oc­cur.

As late as April 12, 2018, Schwarz lob­bied the FAA to re­store his med­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to fly, ac­cord­ing to the in­sur­ance letter.

When the FAA re­con­sid­ered the re­vo­ca­tion they told him, “We have again re­viewed your com­plete file and re­gret that we have no al­ter­na­tive ex­cept to sus­tain our pre­vi­ous de­nial dated May 30, 2017 due to your aeromed­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant (REDACTED),” the letter said.

Schwarz ig­nored that rul­ing and flew any­way.

On July 8, he drove from his home in a Washington, D.C., sub­urb to the Stafford Re­gional Air­port out­side Fred­er­icks­burg. He flew out of the air­port in his Robin­son R44 he­li­copter.

Af­ter a meet­ing with the Vir­ginia He­li­copters As­so­ci­a­tion at the Wil­liams­burg-Jamestown Air­port, Schwarz took off at 4:26 p.m. af­ter top­ping off both gas tanks.

Less than 10 min­utes later and headed for Stafford, Schwarz crashed his he­li­copter into a 10-unit res­i­den­tial com­plex in Wil­liams­burg, killing him­self and Danylko.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board has re­leased no new in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic about the crash since a July 20 pre­lim­i­nary re­port.

The FAA de­nied an Oc­to­ber Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest for Schwarz’s health records. In an­other re­quest made in Oc­to­ber and clar­i­fied in Novem- ber, the FAA pro­vided air­man records and Schwarz’s death cer­tifi­cate. A third re­quest is pend­ing, but it re­mains un­clear whether or not it will be pro­cessed in a timely man­ner due to the par­tial fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Schwarz’s death was an ac­ci­dent, ac­cord­ing to his death cer­tifi­cate. He died of blunt force trauma across his en­tire body. The record does not men­tion any ail­ments he may have suf­fered be­fore he died.

By land and air

In the years be­fore the crash, Schwarz’s fam­ily was leery of flying with him.

Theresa Mon­roe said she and her hus­band Ned re­fused to al­low their son Harry — Schwarz’s bi­o­log­i­cal grand­son — to fly with Schwarz in the last few years.

From flying to driv­ing, Schwarz strug­gled to get around, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents in his Fair­fax County neigh­bor­hood, county fire depart­ment records and Mon­roe.

On June 11 and July 10, 2017, Schwarz crashed his car into his garage. The first crash was se­vere, records in­di­cate: Schwarz drove his late-model Chrysler 300 sedan through a brick par­ti­tion that di­vided the two-car garage. When the fire depart­ment ar­rived af­ter neigh­bors called 911, fire­fight­ers dis­cov­ered Schwarz’s ve­hi­cle at rest on top of the par­ti­tion in the mid­dle of the two car garage. The Fair­fax County Fire Depart­ment re­port in­di­cates there was sig­nif­i­cant struc­tural dam­age to the build­ing. Neigh­bors pho­tographed the in­ci­dent.

Sev­en­teen years be­fore those crashes, Schwarz crashed a hand­built ex­per­i­men­tal air­plane into a cornfield out­side of Fred­er­icks­burg’s Shan­non Air­port, ac­cord­ing to archived NTSB re­ports. He suf­fered mi­nor in­juries and the plane was a loss.

Schwarz, a long­time res­i­dent of Fair­fax County’s South­wood neigh­bor­hood out­side Mt. Vernon, was a re­tired Viet­nam War com­bat pi­lot with sev­eral thou­sand hours of flight time, ac­cord­ing to friends, neigh­bors and NTSB re­ports. He first ob­tained air­man cer­ti­fi­ca­tion on Christ­mas Eve 1957.

Friends, neigh­bors and fel­low air­craft en­thu­si­asts called Schwarz a mix­ture of metic­u­lous, stub­born and ded­i­cated to flying.

“What he did with his life, I could have an­other 80 years to my life and I’ll never be able to (do),” Schwarz’s friend, DJ Shel­ton of King Ge­orge County, said. “In Viet­nam, he or­ches­trated the res­cue and de­struc­tion of POW camps.”

The stub­born side of Schwarz showed it­self in Shel­ton’s last ride with him, just months be­fore the July 8 crash, he said.

“I was watch­ing Henry take a drink of his wa­ter, his hands were shak­ing pretty good. I made the fa­tal mis­take of ask­ing Henry if he was OK (im­me­di­ately be­fore take­off ). He dipped the nose of that he­li­copter and took off ... he scared the be­jee­bus out of me.”

Shel­ton had no idea Schwarz was found un­fit to fly by the FAA, he said. He and Schwarz had grown apart dur­ing the past five years.

From fights with neigh­bors over how the en­trance sign to the neigh­bor­hood should be land­scaped, to neigh­bors’ re­ac­tions when he painted the shut­ters on his home bub­blegum pink, Schwarz did not like to have his opin­ions dis­counted, ac­cord­ing to his neigh­bors.

As he got older, Schwarz be­came even more stub­born in some re­spects. And he fought to re­main in­de­pen­dent, Mon­roe said.

“We begged him to stop. I don’t know why he kept flying.”

Mon­roe paused. “He loved it.”


Re­tired Army of­fi­cer Henry Schwarz was pres­i­dent of the Vir­ginia He­li­copter As­so­ci­a­tion. In this 2015 pho­to­graph, he stood in front of the Robin­son R44 Raven II he later crashed.

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