Woman gives free hugs to remember friends lost in deadly plane crash

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Anyone who needed a hug could get one Wednesday night in Waikiki. One of the reasons for the hugs was to remember four friends who lost their lives in last month's plane crash in Kunia.

Spending some time with friends hugging complete strangers in a bit of therapy for Lealyn Toponi. She was close friends with Heather Riley, Riley's boyfriend Gerrit Evensen, and Alexis Aaron.

"Lexie, Heather and Gerrit were free spirits. They were fun," said Toponi. "They would be dressed up, they would be giving out free hugs for sure."

The three were killed, along with pilot Dean Hutton, when their single-engine Beechcraft 19-A crashed above Kunia last month. The wreckage of the plane still hasn't been recovered.

The seemingly spontaneous free hugs event along Kalakaua Avenue was actually in the works before the crash happened.

"Heather and I were actually planning this event together, so the show must go on," said Toponi. "She would be happy that we're doing this."

Toponi and her boyfriend were supposed to go on the flight, but something came up which changed their plans at the last moment. Heather and Gerrit were asked to take their place. Does Toponi consider herself lucky?

"You know, I really don't think about stuff like that," she said. "I think there's a lot of missed connections that we don't know about, where we could have been in the wrong place at the right time."

Instead, she thinks about how her friends would be here with her, giving out free hugs.

"They would be out here, having fun, living life. Living life out loud."

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