Three dead in plane crash remembered by family and friends

Termaine Balberdi with husband George
Termaine Balberdi with husband George
Kathleen Kern
Kathleen Kern

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pilot and two Maui County planning department employees who died in a small plane crash on Lanai Wednesday were remembered with sadness by family and friends.

Pilot Richard "Dick" Rooney, 66, owned the charter company Maui Air and Volcano Air Tours, based in Kahului.  The company boasted a perfect safety record until Wednesday's crash.

Rooney flew the type of plane that crashed for more than 20 years, friends said.

Colleague George Hanzawa, owner of George's aviation, described Rooney as "very, very safety oriented, a well-respected pilot in the aviation industry.  He's been around a long time."

"It's just very difficult, when you lose a fellow pilot. What can you say but that you're sorry," Hanzawa added.

Termaine Balberdi, 52, of Kahului, also died in the crash. She had worked at Maui County's planning department for more than 25 years as a secretary to various meetings and hearings.

"She always was giving, loving.  Any time that anybody was down, they'd go to her, and she'd raise them up," said the victim's daughter, Malia Balberdi, from the home she shares with her parents on Maui. "It just came naturally for her.  She got along with everybody.  Everybody loved her."

Malia Balberdi, 30, is a zoning inspector and works with her mom in the same department.

"We live together, we go to work together. Literally, we drive together.  We're in a separate office but  we're the same division," Malia Balberdi said.

In a sad twist of fate, her mother wasn't supposed to be on plane that crashed. She had volunteered to go to Wednesday night's meeting to take the minutes for another employee who couldn't make it.

One of the things that made her mother the happiest was being a grandma to 5-year-old Geovanni, her grandson who won a principal's award at Kahului Elementary School Thursday.

"The last conversation I had with her she said, 'Don't forget to shine his shoes.' I said, 'for what?'  She said, 'so when he goes on stage he has nice shoes, and make sure he has nice pants and a nice uniform. That was the last thing she said to me," Malia Balberdi said.

For the last year, Termaine Balberdi has been preparing for her daughter's wedding which is set for April.

"She got my dress, she did my centerpieces, she did my decorations, she did everything," Malia said, choking back tears. "She just picked out her dress.  So now, it's not going to be the same."

She said her father George is devastated by the loss of his wife, who he met when they were students at Baldwin High School.

"My mom and my dad were high school sweethearts. They were each other's first love. They did everything together. They were attached at the hip," she said.

The victim's aunt, Jackie Balberdi, described her niece as "angelic."

"She doesn't talk bad about anything or anyone," the victim's aunt said. "She's like a gem.  There's no flaws.  That's all I can describe her.  She's a gem."

"She left me a message just before she went to Lanai.  She said 'Aunty, I'm about to board the plane, so I'll talk to you tomorrow,'" Jackie Balberdi said, with a heavy sigh.

The other Maui planning department employee killed in the crash was Kathleen Kern , a community planner and urban designer who'd been with the department for nearly five years.

Hawaii News Now shot video of her at a community planning meeting in Lanai City a year ago.

"Would folks on Lanai like to see more smaller businesses established on the island and how would that happen?" Kern asked the meeting in early 2013.

Maui's Mayor Alan Arakawa called her a "bright young planner."

She would conduct meetings throughout the county, asking for public input on sometimes controversial planning issues.

According to her LinkedIn page, Kern attended college in Canada where she received three degrees. She worked as a planner for the cities of Vancouver and Seattle before moving to Maui in 2009.

'She was an advocate for our community, she really loved this place. And she worked very hard on our behalf.  So it's a real loss for us," said Robin Kaye, a spokesman for the group Friends of Lanai, who has lived on the island since 1974.

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