Dad grieves daughter lost in crash one year ago
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Terry Wood will drive out to the municipal cemetery in tiny Burleson, Texas, today and visit a place he calls "Whitney's Spot."
Photo courtesy of Gary Barber
The gravesite at the municipal cemetery in Burleson, Texas, of Whitney Lee Wood, who, along with six others, was killed July 21, 2000, in a helicopter crash in 'Iao Valley on Maui.
Photo courtesy of Gary Barber
He will lay them beside the headstone that carries the picture of his 14-year-old daughter, framed by a carving of a heart. And there, in the middle of the Burleson Memorial Cemetery, he will try not to think of a place 3,690 miles away.
It's a ritual that Wood has gone through nearly three times a week since July 21, 2000 the day that Whitney, her best friend, Natalie Prince, also 14, a family of four from New Jersey and their pilot died in a tour helicopter crash in Maui's 'Iao Valley.
Wood has never been to 'Iao Valley. And he does not know if he will ever find the courage to visit.
But 'Iao Valley has become an important place in his life.
"It's where Whitney went to meet God," he said.
She was riding in a twin-engine Eurocopter Twin Star AS355 helicopter that slammed into a valley wall about two miles west of the 'Iao Needle on July 21. All seven people on board died, including Blue Hawaiian pilot Larry Kirsch, 55, John "Jack" Jordan, 51, his wife Jan S. Herscovit, 49, their son, Max Jordan, 16, and daughter Lindsey Jordan, 15.
Dozens of people have been affected since from the families of the dead, to the searchers who came upon the bodies, to the owners of Hawai'i's biggest tour helicopter company, which suffered its first crash in 15 years that day.
"It's especially hard knowing that they all had families and that they came to Maui to have a good time and it ended tragically," said Richard Sword, a Maui psychiatrist who counseled 40 people connected to the crash. "It's kind of gruesome, and it's very stressful. You get angry that this accident could happen. And you are sad that it could happen in a beautiful place like Maui."
Everyone deals with the crash in their own way, on their own time, Sword said.
But Wood's grief has been steeled by an unusual strength of character. He does not allow for anger. And he insists that he is not interested in suing the helicopter company.
Photo courtesy of Terry Wood
Natalie Prince, 14, on the left, and Whitney Wood, 14, both died in a helicopter crash a year ago today.
Photo courtesy of Terry Wood
He says he has turned down offers from Blue Hawaiian's insurance company to set up a trust fund in Whitney's name and a separate trust fund for his 12-year-old son, Hunter.
"I thought it was a little bit out of taste," Wood said. "It just didn't seem right to put a dollar amount that could compensate someone for a loss. That won't bring my daughter back."
Wood raised his two children with old-fashioned values. With Whitney's death, he sees no point in changing now.
Burleson, population 25,575, forms the southern point of a triangle between Fort Worth to the northwest and Dallas to the northeast. After the school district, the local Wal-Mart is Burleson's biggest employer.
Terry and Lisken Wood picked Burleson as a place to raise their children for good reason. It's a place where neighbors know each other, watch out for each other's children and spend long, lazy nights talking in their front yards.
Time on the farm
Wood, 46, was raised in tiny Hillsboro, 60 miles outside of Fort Worth. "Grandpa and them had farms," Wood said. "We spent a lot of time on the farm."
Today he works as a service manager for the Burleson Ford dealership. His wife, Lisken, 38, was a bookkeeper for the Methodist Church in Fort Worth and now teaches at Burleson Middle School.
Although he works a city-type job, Wood's heart is never far from the country.
He leases some land where he raises 25 head of cattle and two horses including Whitney's favorite, a retired bull-dogging buckskin named "Nip."
His son, Hunter, is a "momma's boy" who prefers staying home and playing on the computer, Wood said. Whitney was more like her father. They fished and hunted deer and birds. On the weekends, Whitney learned to drive by jumping into an air-conditioned tractor, cranking up the stereo and cutting and bailing hay all day.
That was a father and daughter's idea of having fun.
"She was daddy's girl," Wood said.
When Whitney was invited by her best friend's family to join them on a seven-day trip to Maui, Wood and his wife argued about letting her go.
Whitney had never flown on an airplane, let alone traveled so far without her parents.
"Of course, I gave in," Wood said. "When my daughter rolled those big eyes around, it was hard to say no."
Gifts for the family
Whitney called back to Texas every day. "She said Hawai'i looked just like you see in the movie pictures," Wood said. She wrote her boyfriend's name in the sand and sent pictures home to prove it.
She bought a T-shirt for her mother, key chains for her brother and a big white aloha shirt with drawings of the islands for her father. She labeled each present and wrapped them in her suitcase for her trip back on July 21, right after what was supposed to be a short helicopter flight over the north-west portion of Maui.
And then at midnight, the call came.
Lisken Wood stirred from her side of the bed in Burleson, lifted the telephone and heard a voice she did not recognize, coming from a place she did not know.
"No, please no," she said to the Maui police officer. "Not my daughter."
The officer said that a tour helicopter carrying Whitney was long overdue from its 30-minute flight.
Half an hour later, Terry Wood answered the second call.
"The man said they had found the helicopter and it had crashed," Wood said. "There were no survivors.
One favor to ask
Lisken carefully unpacked Whitney's clothes and put them back in her pink and red bedroom, decorated with stuffed and porcelain pigs and posters of 'N Sync. But Wood cannot bring himself to look at the aloha shirt that hangs in his closet. The idea of trying it on is unthinkable.
Although he may never come to Maui, Wood has a favor to ask someone who might be inside or flying above 'Iao Valley today.
He would like someone anyone to drop a lei, a wreath or flowers at the place where Whitney went to meet God.
Pink roses would be especially nice. They were Whitney's favorite.
If that's too much to ask, Wood understands. He'll have already laid a bouquet at the place he calls Whitney's Spot.
Correction: Gary Barber provided the image of the photograph of Whitney Lee Wood's grave site in Burleson, Texas. Credit information was incorrect in a previous version of this story.
You can reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com or 525-8085.