Texas Newlyweds Die in Helicopter Crash Leaving Wedding
About 90 minutes after exchanging vows, a young newlywed Texas couple was killed when the helicopter they left the reception in crashed north of Uvalde, Texas. William Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler were flying to a regional airport from where they planned to fly to their honeymoon destination, according to the Uvalde County Justice of the Peace Steve Kennedy.
The helicopter crashed about five to ten minutes after it took off – as the newlyweds’ friends and family looked on – and left a trail of wreckage nearly 100 yards long, Craig Hatch, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said.
Their deaths were first announced by The Houstonian, the independent student newspaper of Sam Houston State University, where the newlyweds were both seniors.
“It is with deepest sadness that we announce the tragic passing of two Bearkats: Will Byler (Agriculture Engineering senior) & Bailee Ackerman Byler (Ag Comm senior) in a helicopter accident departing their wedding. We ask that you keep the families in your thoughts and prayers,” said a tweet from the school paper.
It is with deepest sadness that we announce the tragic passing of two Bearkats: Will Byler (Agriculture Engineering senior) & Bailee Ackerman Byler (Ag Comm senior) in a helicopter accident departing their wedding. We ask that you keep the families in your thoughts and prayers. pic.twitter.com/5d3EVljNMx— The Houstonian (@HoustonianNews) November 5, 2018
“These two individuals made a huge impact, and will always be remembers by their kind hearts and uplifting spirits,” said a statement from Sam Houston State University’s student body president, David Eller. “Will and Bailee spent their last moments on Earth surrounded by family and friends in what can easily be said as the best moments of their life.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash, though recovering the wreckage of a helicopter “is going to be difficult” because of the rough Texas terrain, authorities said.
NTSB investigating crash Sunday of a Bell 206B in Uvalde, TX.— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) November 4, 2018
NBC affiliate KPRC has identified the helicopter pilot as Gerald Douglas Lawrence, 76, of Houston. Craig Hatch, an air safety investigator with NTSB, described Lawrence as “very experienced” pilot at a press conference Monday. He had more than 24,000 flight hours and has served as the Byler family’s pilot for more than 20 years. He also flew helicopters as an Army captain in Vietnam and the Gulf War.
Gerald Green Lawrence has been identified as the pilot in the helicopter crash that killed 2 newlyweds near Uvalde, Texas, just an hour and a half after the wedding. https://t.co/qV6zRjHDil pic.twitter.com/cI3nXaH4Wi— ABC13 Houston (@abc13houston) November 5, 2018
Lawrence’s daughter, Devon de Samaniego, told KPRC her father had been a helicopter pilot for nearly 50 years. She also said her father was “vigilant” about keeping his physicals and certifications updated.
“My father would not endanger anybody’s lives including his own or the passengers that would be coming into that helicopter. My father was the epitome of a professional when it comes to being a helicopter pilot,” she said.
I spoke w/the step daughter of the pilot who says the flight path was routine for her stepdad and he had flown it many times. The family is in shock over the accident and knew something was wrong when they didn’t hear from anyone hours later.— Charly Edsitty (@CharlyABC13) November 5, 2018
Lawrence’s daughter also added that her father was personally asked to fly the newlyweds off to their honeymoon.
“They asked him if he would do the honor of escorting the bride and groom to their honeymoon destination and it was his pure honor to be able to be in that moment with that family and share that experience,” de Samaniego said.
Their wedding website early Monday showed details about where guests could stay and the couple’s registries. Later, all that remained on the site was a picture of the couple, their names and the date and place of the wedding.