Newlyweds die in helicopter crash leaving their wedding

Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler were both seniors at Sam Houston State University and news of their deaths was first reported by the university\'s independent student newspaper -- The Houstonian. Photo courtesy Facebook

A newlywed couple died early Sunday after the helicopter carrying them from their wedding crashed in Uvalde, Texas. CNN
By Emanuella Grinberg, Marlena Baldacci and Chuck Johnston, CNN

    (CNN) -- A newlywed couple died after the helicopter carrying them from their wedding crashed into the side of a mountain in Uvalde, Texas, authorities said.

Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler married Saturday evening at the Byler family ranch before departing on the helicopter in front of family and friends. Uvalde is in northwest Uvalde County, about 100 miles west of San Antonio.

The Sam Houston State University seniors were on the way to their honeymoon in San Antonio when their helicopter crashed into the mountain, game warden Rachel Kellner with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said.

'Pitch dark' conditions

Authorities were notified of the crash just after midnight on Sunday morning, Kellner said. Rescue crews were unable to reach the helicopter overnight because of the difficult terrain and "pitch dark" conditions, she said.

When rescuers arrived, family members who had reached the site in a private helicopter were already there, she said.

No lighted roads -- or any roads for that matter -- lead to the crash site, her partner Dennis Gazaway said. Rescue crews set off for the site at daybreak and crossed four ranches to reach it.

The helicopter crashed about five to 10 minutes after it took off, said Craig Hatch, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. It left a trail of wreckage nearly 100 yards long, Hatch said.

The NTSB is investigating the cause. But first, investigators have to recover the wreckage from the crash site, a task made difficult by the terrain and the remote location -- roughly 4 to 5 miles from the nearest state road, Hatch said.

"Getting back there with a trailer and truck and people to lift the helicopter is going to be difficult," he said in a Monday news conference.

Hatch said he saw an emergency locator transmitter at the crash site but he was unaware if it had been activated or whether a mayday was called in before the crash. There was no fire at the crash site but the smell of fuel was present, he said.

University reacts to the students' death

News of the deaths was first reported by the SHSU's independent student newspaper, The Houstonian.

"It is with deepest sadness that we announce the tragic passing of two Bearkats, Will Byler (Agriculture Engineering senior) and Bailee Ackerman Byler (Agricultural Communication senior) in a helicopter accident departing their wedding," the Houstonian posted on Facebook Sunday evening.

"We ask that you keep the Byler and Ackerman families in your thoughts and prayers," CNN affiliate KTRK said Byler was a steer wrestler on the SHSU's Rodeo Team. Ackerman Byler joined the school's agriculture department after years of Future Farmers of America competitions in high school.

"These two individuals made a huge impact and will be remembered by their kind hearts and uplifting spirits," SHSU Student Government Association President David Eller said in a statement Monday. "By serving in their communities and at the Sam Houston State University on the SHSU Rodeo Team and in various student organizations, Will and Bailee exemplified the university motto, 'The Measure of a Life is its Service.'"

The Southwest Texas Junior College Rodeo Team honored the couple in a Facebook video.

The team said it was joining its "extended rodeo family at Sam Houston State University and the entire NIRA Southern Region, as we all deeply grieve the loss of Will Byler & Bailee Ackerman Byler."

"We are a close-knit extended family and our hearts ache extensively for each and every family member, friend, loved one, teammate & acquaintance these tremendous individuals touched," the post read.

The groom's grandfather, William Byler, told CNN affiliate KTRK that the aircraft's pilot, Gerald Green Lawrence, also died in the crash on the family ranch. Lawrence's family said he had married in April and was expecting a second grandchild on Monday, CNN affiliate KSAT reported.

Hatch said the helicopter's pilot was "highly qualified," with 24,000 hours of flying. He did not identify the pilot by name.

Lawrence's stepdaughter, Amilyn Willard, told the station he was a captain in the army and fought in Vietnam. Willard said "the flight path was routine for her stepdad and he had flown it many times," station reporter Charly Edsitty tweeted.

"The family is in shock over the accident and knew something was wrong when they didn't hear from anyone hours later."


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