HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A pilot who had moved to the islands just 20 days ago. A grandmother celebrating a family vacation in the Islands. A visitor from Chicago.
The identities of the three people killed in a helicopter crash on a busy Kailua street came into focus Wednesday, as family members grieved their losses and waited for answers on what went wrong.
The pilot of the craft was identified as 28-year-old Joseph Berridge, who had moved to Hawaii earlier this month to accept his “dream job,” relatives said.
Bobby Berridge, Joseph’s father, remembers one of their last conversations.
“He was on the beach and I called him and he said, ‘Dad who has it better than I do? Nobody.’ My son was happiest in Hawaii. He was taken from me way too soon,” said Berridge.
Joseph was born and raised in New Mexico. He was an all-star athlete, playing football and basketball in high school, and after two years at New Mexico State, he went to flight school to become a helicopter pilot.
“The first time we ever took him to the school, his eyes lit up and he got off that helicopter and said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do with my life. This is my calling,’” said Berridge.
The two passengers were unrelated.
One of them ― 28-year-old Ryan McAuliffe ― was visiting Hawaii from Chicago.
The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii is assisting McAuliffe’s family.
“We’re giving them morale support and anything that they need,” said Jessica Lani Rich, VASH President and CEO. “We also assisted in getting Ryan’s remains back to Chicago."
Rich says it was McAuliffe first time to Hawaii and she was vacationing on Oahu with a friend.
The other passenger was identified as Jan “Jammie” Burgess, of Australia.
In an emotional statement, her family said Burgess was a "mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunty and friend to a wide network of family and friends. We are all in pain at this time.”
They said the 76-year-old was vacationing in Hawaii with family.
“We are trying to understand and deal with the sudden loss at this time,” the family said, in the statement. “We are also mindful that this tragic incident is also affecting two other families and friends and request that due care is also given to their privacy as we share in their grief.”
The city Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of death for all three people in the chopper was multiple blunt force injuries. Toxicology testing is also being conducted, which is standard procedure.
The crash happened about 9 a.m. Monday, when the Robinson R44 nose-dived onto Oneawa Street. The NTSB is investigating, and on Tuesday removed the charred wreckage from the scene.
Investigators haven’t offered any clues about what might have brought the chopper down, but bystanders said the pilot appeared to have no control just before the crash happened.
Fabian Salazar, NTSB air safety investigator, said in addition to focusing on the wreckage, investigators will be considering the pilot’s actions and history, and any environmental factors that might be at play.
The chopper was owned by tour company Novictor Helicopters, which has said it’s cooperating with the investigation.
“This accident is heartbreaking for everyone, especially the families and friends of the passengers and pilot, who was part of our Novictor family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of them,” the company said. “The safety and welfare of our personnel and passengers are our top priority.
Matt Clarke, an aviation attorney in Portland who specializes in investigating helicopter crashes, says it’s hard to determine now exactly what went wrong in the air.
But he said the Robinson R44 helicopter has a history of known issues.
“Things like loss of tail rotor effectiveness, which could sort of match up with some of the witnesses who talk about the helicopter spinning out of control,” said Clarke.
“The main rotor will actually impact the rotor mast on the helicopter itself, which could cause the rotor to break apart and the helicopter to break apart. They have an issue with fires on hard impacts or crashes that might otherwise be survivable.”
Family members said the chopper pilot had accepted a job with Novictor Helicopters from New Mexico, where he’d attended New Mexico State University before going to helicopter school.
He got his commercial pilot’s license about a year ago, and was also a certified flight instructor.
His father told the AP that his son’s girlfriend and dog were preparing to join him in the islands.
“It was always my son’s dream to go to Hawaii and fly tours for a couple of years,” he said
He added that his son was a “great pilot” and knew what he was doing. “I’m not going to point fingers at this time,” he said.
This story will be updated.