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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 16, 2007

A 'fantastic time' then tragedy

 •  NTSB still hopes to find lost parts

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

From left, Patrick and David O'Donnell brother and son, respectively, of John O'Donnell and Michael Benade, friend of Margriet Inglebrecht, spoke yesterday of life without their loved ones.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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When David O'Donnell last talked with his parents by phone from New York, John and Bernie O'Donnell told him they were having the time of their lives and were looking forward to a helicopter tour of Kaua'i.

When the Heli USA helicopter that they were flying crashed on March 8, John O'Donnell was killed and his wife, Veronica "Bernie" O'Donnell, and two others on board were critically injured. The injured are recovering at The Queen's Medical Center.

"They were having a fantastic time," David O'Donnell said. "They were just so happy with the trip, that they were here, they were together. They really enjoyed the spirit of the people and everyone was so welcoming to them."

O'Donnell and Patrick O'Donnell, John O'Donnell's brother, spoke yesterday to the local media for the first time since the accident.

Also appearing at the news conference was Michael Benade, a close friend of Cornelius "Neels" Scholtz and Margriet Inglebrecht. Inglebrecht, 19, died in the crash; Scholtz was critically injured.

The O'Donnells and Scholtz have retained California lawyer Mike Danko to look into the cause of the crash. No lawsuit has been filed yet.

The relatives described O'Donnell as a hard-working man who loved his family. The 45-year-old construction foreman from East Rockaway, N.Y., and his wife were in Hawai'i for the first time, a 25th-anniversary gift from their children, David, 23, and Lorraine, 24.

"He took pride in how hard he worked and ... he did it for my sister and I and put us through college," a tearful David O'Donnell said. "I think that was what he was most proud of, that he helped us become adults. I'm just so happy that he got to see us grow up. He was just so generous. He always stuck his neck out for everyone."

Patrick O'Donnell said everyone who knew his brother loved him. He said his brother was excited about coming to Hawai'i and was especially looking forward to the helicopter tour.

"That's what he talked about the last couple of weeks. He wanted to go up in the helicopter and see Hawai'i that way," Patrick O'Donnell said.

He said Bernie O'Donnell was "doing as well as can be expected," although she is still in a lot of pain. He said she has a broken pelvis, fractured back, lacerations to her face, injuries to her lung and liver, and has a broken ankle.

"She's doing pretty well. But it's going to take a long time," he said. Bernie O'Donnell may be released from the hospital in a week, he said.

Patrick O'Donnell said this is the second tragedy to hit his family in the past year. His father died recently and he's worried about how his brother's death will affect his mother.

"My father passed away last May and now she has to go through this all over again," he said as he choked back tears. "We just want to know what happened and prevent it from happening again. I know John wants that."

Benade said Scholtz was to have more surgery yesterday but is "in good spirits." Benade and Scholtz, 31, are pharmacists and natives of South Africa.

"Mentally he's a very strong person. He doesn't really recall much of the crash itself, but he knows what happened and that Margriet died in the crash," Benade said. "It's obviously very hard for him and it's going to take a long time to heal."

Scholtz and Inglebrecht were married about 11 months ago and were spending their belated honeymoon on Kaua'i. Benade said his friends loved adventure and also were looking forward to the air tour of the island.

"They were people who did things. They didn't just talk about things," Benade said. "They came out here to have a little bit of adventure and he would like similar people who come out here to do the same things, but not go through the same things that they did.

"Margriet and Neels were very much in love anyone who knew them would be a testament to that. They were married almost exactly 11 months, and every time you saw them they were always smiling, just having fun and enjoying each other's company."

The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Danko said he has hired retired National Transportation Safety Board investigator Doug Herlihy to conduct their own investigation.

Also killed in the crash were Teri McCarty, 47, of Cabot, Ark., and pilot Joseph Sulak. The other injured passenger was McCarty's husband, James McCarty.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.