The lives of a Texas bride and groom were cut short when the helicopter that whisked them away from their fairytale wedding crashed into the side of a hill.
Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman, both 23, who were seniors at Sam Houston State University, died in the early hours of Sunday morning alongside their pilot, just hours after they said ‘I do’.
Their 76-year-old pilot, Gerald Lawrence also died. He was a Vietnam veteran, his wife told DailyMail.com on Monday.
Lawrence was a private commercial pilot who worked for the groom’s father’s helicopter business.
NTSB investigators described him as ‘highly qualified’ on Monday.
On Sunday, the aircraft went down in Ulvade, a mile from the ranch where they tied the knot in front of 700 guests, after around ten minutes in the air.
The NTSB, which is investigating the crash, said it happened at 1.47am. Local sheriffs however received reports of it at midnight.
Lawrence called 911 to report a problem with the air craft before his death, his wife said. Search teams took hours to find the wreckage in the dark.
Lawrence was flying the couple to San Antonio Airport where they were due to catch a flight for their honeymoon.
The pilot’s wife said he had never had an accident before and was ‘very close’ to the Byler family who he worked for.
Wedding guest Eric Smith, who shared the tragic news on Facebook, wrote: ‘The pilot, Jerry, was also on board. There were no survivors.’
Smith described the soiree as a fairytale wedding, and said the couple were surrounded by friends and family as they departed into the sky.
Lawrence’s wife Hilda told DailyMail.com on Monday that he was a ‘fantastic’ husband.
‘He was the most fantastic funny, energetic man. Very humble and lovable man,’ she said.
She said he knew the Byler family ‘very well’.
The Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, game wardens, Border Patrol agents, the Uvalde Volunteer Fire Department and Uvalde Emergency Medical Services searched for the chopper and located the wreckage just around daybreak.
It took them so long to find the couple and the pilot because they crashed in the ‘pitch dark’ onto the side of a mountain.
‘When we got to the site we knew what we were dealing with we saw a helicopter in a terrible state.
‘When we came, the family was, a lot of the family was there.
‘They had been dropped off by private helicopter,’ Texas Game Warden Rachel Kellner said at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
She said the bodies were ‘close enough’ to the wreckage for them to find them easily.
Jessica Stilley, Bailee’s maid of honor, paid a heart-wrenching tribute to her best friend.
‘My sweet Bailee Raye, my heart is broken in a million little pieces as I sit here and think of the rest of my life without my best friend.’