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Country Music Star Kenny Chesney Used To Fly With Helicopter Pilot Who Died In Crash With 3 Other People

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Country music star Kenny Chesney has identified the pilot of an ill-fated helicopter crash that left at least four people dead on Monday afternoon.

Chesney said in the Facebook group “What’s Going On St. Thomas?” that he has been flying with helicopter pilot Maria Rodriguez for 15 years and that she will be dearly missed.

“I have to say a very hard goodbye to my friend Maria Rodriguez in the Virgin Islands. Maria and others were killed today in a helicopter crash in St. Thomas. She was a dear friend to me and to our island community,” Chesney said.

Emergency personnel recovered four bodies from a crashed helicopter at the Preserve at Botany Bay on St. Thomas on Monday, authorities said.

Search and recovery efforts will continue today to retrieve a fifth victim today, Virgin Islands Fire Services Director Daryl George Sr., the lead crash site manager.

“The crash site was found,” George said Monday evening. “We had to cut our way in, so it’s bad terrain.”

Richard Motta, the Government House communications director, said Tuesday morning that a fifth person was listed on the flight manifest and was feared missing, but George confirmed later that the person was not on the flight.

A swimmer told the Virgin Islands Daily News they saw plumes of black smoke and smelled a chemical odor coming from the hill where the chopper crashed on Monday afternoon.

According to a statement from the Antilles School, a private pre-K-12 school located on St. Thomas, the crash killed senior Tyler Yannone, his parents Daniel Yannone and Neisha Zahn, and another parent whose children previously attended the school. The school identified the parent as Maria Rodriguez.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with each family member and loved one affected by this devastating loss,” Antilles communications director Ananta Pancham said, adding the school was closed Tuesday and that additional grief resources would be provided in coming days.

Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency spokesman Erik Ackerson said Monday evening that the four bodies were transferred to the custody of the V.I. Justice Department, which oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Authorities are withholding identification pending notification of the other victims’ next of kin.

Pilot Maria Rodriguez (left) with Kenny Chesney in her helicopter

“I have been flying with Maria for over 15 years and we shared a lot of laughs and a lot of life together,” Chesney added. “She was always the first person I saw when I landed and the last person I said goodbye to when I would leave 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.”

NBC News contributed to this report

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