91-year-old woman killed in helicopter crash had ‘sparkle in her eye’

JAMES CITY, Va. – A memorial is posted behind the desk at the James City County Recreation Center, in memory of Jean Lonchak Danylko, who died when a helicopter crashed into her Williamsburg townhome on Sunday afternoon.

The bridge players at the recreation center said the 91-year-old woman was a calming, friendly presence.

Jean worked as a receptionist in the senior lounge, once a week on Fridays.

“She’s definitely going to be missed, it’s still hard to believe she’s not going to be coming in the door Friday afternoon,” her boss Amy Fiedor said.

Amy said Jean defied her age; she still drove a car, socialized and exercised weekly at the center.

“She would tell everybody that with a sparkle in her eye, ‘Oh I’m 91’ and everybody would have the same kind of reaction-- ‘Wow,’ you know,” Amy said.

Staff said Jean was very sweet, very caring, a gentle soul – a woman who loved to make other’s comfortable and lifted up the lives of those around her.

CBS 6 reached out to Jean’s son, but the woman who answered the phone said the family is dealing with a lot right now and isn’t ready to talk.

The R44 helicopter pilot also died in the crash, but the identity has not been released.

Credit Kaeley Clardy

"[The helicopter] departed the Williamsburg-Jamestown airport around 4:30 p.m. [Sunday]. The pilot was the only person on board," National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Doug Brazy said during a Monday afternoon press conference. "We don't know the destination of the flight yet."

The helicopter crashed into the Bristol Commons Townhomes -- about one mile from the airport on Settlement Drive -- minutes after takeoff.

"The pilot -- who we believe was on board -- held a commercial pilot certificate," Brazy said.

Brazy asked witnesses to contact the NTSB to report what they saw moments before the crash.

"I just remember saying, that helicopter is flying really low,” neighbor Brook Sweeney said hours after the crash.

Moments later, an explosion.

"Everything in the house shook," Sweeney said. "I don’t think it’s a sound I’ll honestly forget."

The helicopter's impact sparked a massive fire.

"The place starts erupting," Sweeney said. "There were probably three or four mini explosions."