What was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives turned tragic when a helicopter carrying a newlywed couple crashed shortly after leaving the couple’s wedding reception. All three people on board–the newlyweds and the helicopter’s pilot—died in the crash. Officials are now investigating what caused the tragic helicopter crash, while family members and friends are left to mourn their loved ones.
Sam Houston State University Couple Died in Tragic Bell Helicopter Accident After Their Reception
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, was meant to be an incredibly happy day for Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler. The two seniors at Sam Houston State University had their wedding ceremony in the evening and celebrated a reception at the Byler ranch in Uvalde, Texas. At the end of the night, the two were picked up by a helicopter and whisked away from the ranch. They never reached their destination.
As their helicopter, a Bell 206-B twin-engine chopper, made its way to San Antonio, the aircraft crashed into a mountain, only minutes after it took off and a few short hours after the couple said “I do.” Relatives at the wedding were the first to reach the crash site near Park Chalk Bluff.
The Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office says authorities were called around midnight and warned of a possible downed aircraft.
Killed in the crash were newlywed couple Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler, both 23 years old, and 76-year-old pilot Gerald Green Lawrence.
Newlywed Victims in Bell Helicopter Crash Remembered
As news of the newlywed couple’s deaths spread, first through The Houstonian, an independent newspaper at Sam Houston State University, friends remembered the two as having “kind hearts and uplifting spirits.” The university’s rodeo team, for which Will Byler wrestled steer, said it was deeply grieving the deaths of the “tremendous individuals.”
Will studied agricultural engineering at the university and Bailee studied agricultural communication.
A friend remembered the wedding as being magical and perfect, writing on Twitter that she has peace knowing the two “left this earth so full of happiness and love.”
Lawrence, an army captain who fought in Vietnam, was married in April. He leaves behind a wife, two daughters, three stepdaughters and two grandchildren, one of which was to be born the day after the helicopter crash. A family member said Lawrence had flown the same route he took that tragic night many times before. His wife told a reporter Lawrence worked as a private commercial pilot for Will Byler’s father’s helicopter company.
Lawrence’s daughter said Lawrence was honored to fly the bride and groom to their honeymoon. She also said he was vigilant in following safety protocols and would never endanger anyone’s life.
“We love them (the couple) and they know my father loved them and he had the utmost loyalty to the Byler family and, although it’s such a tragic day for both of our families, that they passed at a loving date and that everybody was there to cherish their moment and to love them and to be together—I hope that brings some comfort to both of our families, that it wasn’t a sad day at that moment, that it was a moment and a day full of love and comfort and cherishing for the couple,” his daughter said.
Investigators Looking Into Cause of Texas Post-Wedding Helicopter Crash
The area where the helicopter crashed has no roads, making it difficult for investigators and recovery crews to access the wreckage. Byler family members took a private helicopter to the scene and arrived before rescue crews were able to. Officials said there did not appear to be a fire, although they could smell fuel at the crash site.
The wreckage was in steep terrain, according to reports, meaning any movement could cause it to fall down the hillside.
“We definitely saw a helicopter in a terrible state,” said Game Warden Rachel Kellner. “It was in debris all along the side of the mountain.”
According to Craig Hatch, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, the helicopter’s pilot was highly qualified with 24,000 flying hours. Investigators will remove the wreckage for further examination. A preliminary report is usually released within two weeks, while a full report could take up to a year.