The wreckage of the ill-fated plane that went down Saturday in Nahiku, Maui, remained nose-down and entangled yesterday in a eucalyptus forest just mauka of Hana Highway. All four people aboard -- two adults and two children -- were killed.

Romance met tragic
end on Maui

A woman loses her daughter and
her husband on a trip for their
17th wedding anniversary

By Mary Vorsino and Gary T. Kubota

Jerry Betsill and his wife, Laura Hilgart of Fort Worth, Texas, described by friends and family as the perfect couple, planned their Maui vacation around their 17th wedding anniversary Saturday.

Steve Betsill: Was working on getting his rating to fly by instruments

That day Betsill, his daughter and grandniece went up in a single-engine Cessna Cardinal 177 piloted by his cousin, Stephen Betsill. The airplane crashed near Nahiku, killing all aboard.

The victims were Jerry Betsill, 44; his daughter Emma, 11; his grandniece Merideth Fenimore, 10; and Stephen Betsill, 47, a Maui businessman.

The plane and its occupants were found Monday in a heavily wooded eucalyptus forest about 200 yards mauka of Hana Highway.

The Cessna apparently struck a eucalyptus tree, scraping away a section of bark as it fell against the trunk and came to rest with its nose planted in the ground and tail pointed toward the sky.

The wreckage showed no apparent signs of an explosion or fire.

Nahiku resident Monte Bone, who lives within a half mile of the wreckage, said he was home Saturday afternoon and didn't know an airplane had crashed nearby until it was found by a helicopter search crew on Monday morning.

Jerry Betsill: Recalled as a smart and funny man who loved his family

"I didn't hear anything," Bone said.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Tealeye Cornejo, who arrived yesterday on Maui, said she has talked with Federal Aviation Administration officials and received a "pre-briefing."

"(Today), we're going to do our on-scene work," Cornejo said.

Lauren Peduzzi, a spokeswoman for the NTSB in Washington, D.C., said she could not comment on why rescue officials had difficulty locating the plane's emergency locator transmitter during search operations.

FAA spokeswoman Tweet Coleman said Betsill had been certified as a pilot since last October and probably had less than 200 hours of flying time. She said the flying time was an "adequate amount of hours" and Betsill was working on getting his rating to fly by instruments.

Joe Betsill said Jerry and Stephen Betsill and the two children on the plane wanted to "squeeze in" a tour of the island before evening -- and before Jerry Betsill, his wife and children were scheduled to move to a hotel for the last two to three days of their trip to experience the "true tourist part of Maui."

And Saturday, Jerry Betsill and Hilgart's 17th wedding anniversary, was supposed to be extra special for the two "because they were ... probably in the most romantic place they'd ever been," Joe Betsill said.

Merideth Fenimore: Raised in the same area as Emma Betsill, they “got along like sisters”

Karen Perkins, executive director of the Women's Center of Terrant County in Fort Worth, where Hilgart has worked as director of development for more than 12 years, remembers Jerry Betsill as a "smart, funny and feisty" man who loved and supported his wife and children, daughter Emma and son Sam.

"(Jerry) was one of the best men. ... I knew if I ever needed Jerry, Jerry would be there."

And Joe Betsill said "(Jerry) was the kind of person that, when he walked into a room, the atmosphere changed. People like to be around him. He liked to have fun."

"(Laura and Jerry) were a wonderful, loving couple ... (and Jerry) was a really, really thoughtful parent," Perkins said. "I think they were soul mates."

Betsill met Hilgart in high school, started dating at the University of Texas at Austin and built a family mid-life.

Only two weeks prior to leaving for Maui, Betsill, an attorney, had been made a partner in his law firm, Broude, Smith and Jennings.

Steve Smith, a partner in the firm, said that Betsill was "unlike the stereotypical lawyer."

"Everybody loved him. He could be tough, but he was always friendly."

Emma Betsill: Was an avid soccer player and volunteered at her mother's workplace

Smith and Betsill's daughters, both about the same age, played soccer together when they were 5 or 6.

Emma Betsill, an avid soccer player, was also a "staunch volunteer" at her mother's workplace, Perkins said. "(Emma) was just stellar in every way you can name."

Emma and Merideth were raised in the same area and, said Joe Betsill, "got along like sisters."

Betsill said seven family members joined Jerry Betsill and Hilgart on their Hawaii vacation. More family members have arrived in Maui since the accident, he said. "We've always been close together. We cherish the family and we always have."

Right now, he said, "our hearts are just ripped out, we're trying to find the pieces ... (so we have) drawn from each other. The family is just staying close together."

Stephen Betsill is survived by his wife, Trudee; sons Jeremy and Alex; daughters Abigail and Jillian; brothers Randy, Doyle, and Dwayne; and mother Geneva.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Assembly King's Cathedral in Puunene. Burial will be private.

Jerry and Emma Betsill are survived by wife and mother Laura Hilgart, and son and brother Sam.

Smith said tentative services for Jerry and Emma Betsill are expected Monday at the Unity Church of Fort Worth.

Merideth Fenimore is survived by parents Jennifer and Travis Fenimore of Dallas, a brother and a sister.

A close-up showed the plane wreckage yesterday as it sat in a eucalyptus forest in Nahiku, Maui. Four family members aboard were killed. The National Transport-ation Safety Board was to start its on-scene investiga-tion today.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --