Country singer pays tribute to helicopter pilot to the stars among four dead in Virgin Islands helicopter crash

Ms Rodriguez, who was well-known on islands, owned helicopter company and piloted aircraft carrying Barack and Michelle Obama in 2017

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 16 February 2021 15:15
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Artificial Reef-Kenny Chesney
Artificial Reef-Kenny Chesney

Country singer Kenny Chesney paid tribute on Instagram to helicopter pilot and "dear friend" Maria Rodriguez after she and three others were killed in a helicopter crash in the US Virgin Islands.

Mr Chesney wrote: "She was a dear friend to me and to our island community. I have been flying with Maria for over 15 years and we shared a lot of laughs and a lot of life together."

Ms Rodriguez, who was well-known on the islands, owned a helicopter company and piloted an aircraft carrying Barrack and Michelle Obama in 2017. Prized for her actions during hurricanes Maria and Irma, Ms Rodriguez received the Helicopter Association International Salute to Excellence Appareo Pilot of the Year Award in 2018, Aviation International News reported.

Her helicopter company moved about 300 people during the storms, according to Rotor and Wing. All the flights out of the islands with passengers came back with relief supplies, packing the small aircraft with “as much as the helicopter could carry,” Rodriguez told the outlet. “We just couldn’t stop, because there was still work to do from Irma,” she said.

The 52-year-old Mr Chesney has had a home on the islands for quite some time and spends a lot of his time there.

He wrote about Ms Rodriguez: "She was always the first person I saw when I landed and the last person I said goodbye to when I would leave [the] island. I’m sure going to miss that. It’s fair to say I won’t ever be able to go to the Virgin Islands again without feeling the loss of her. She was such a huge part of my island life. So goodbye sweet friend. I’m sure glad our paths crossed on this side. See you on the other."

The crash took place around 3pm on Monday afternoon. St Thomas Source reported that the helicopter was flying from Cyril E King Airport to the western end of the island of St Thomas.

Fire Service Director Daryl George Sr said that the crash happened in a forested area. The rescue crew were able to extinguish the fire caused by the crash but the search for the people on board went into the night and would continue in the morning on Tuesday as the difficult terrain was searched and conditions darkened as night fell.

The other three people on board were reportedly a business owner with his wife and son on a sightseeing trip. They have not been named.

Ms Rodriguez started her own helicopter companies, Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management, when her previous employer left the US Virgin Islands.

Caribbean Buzz offers helicopter services around the Caribbean and supports yachts around the world. Her companies, based on St Thomas, provide both helicopter and seaplane support to adventurers and remote locations.

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