Maria Rodriguez was the owner of helicopter companies in the Virgin Islands who was killed in a St. Thomas helicopter crash along with a family of three. She was also the friend of singer Kenny Chesney, who confirmed her death in a tribute to Rodriguez on his Instagram page.
The cause of the fatal helicopter crash is not yet clear; the other three people who died have not been named. However, according to the Daily Star, they were a family – a business owner, his wife and son – who were on a sightseeing trip.
The helicopter company she owned once wrote, “She is our #Bondgirl!” A person wrote on that comment thread, “Successful business woman and a big hearted, generous humanitarian.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Singer Kenny Chesney Paid Tribute to His ‘Sweet Friend’
Singer Kenny Chesney paid tribute to Rodriguez on his Instagram page.
“Today 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,” he wrote.
“She was a dear friend to me and to our island community. I have been flying with Maria for over 15 years and we shared a lot of laughs and a lot of life together. 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.”
He concluded, “So goodbye sweet friend. I’m sure glad our paths crossed on this side. See you on the other.”
2. The Helicopter Crashed in a Wooded Area
According to St. Thomas Source, the helicopter crash killed four people in the Botany Bay area on February 15, 2021.
The Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency confirmed that the crash occurred at 3 p.m. but didn’t release additional details, the site reported.
The other three victims were not named, and authorities have not yet formally identified Rodriguez, either. The crash occurred in a “heavily wooded area,” the news site reported.
3. Rodriguez, Who Started Her Own Helicopter Companies, Once Flew the Obamas & Helped With Support Relief Missions After Major Hurricanes
In 2018, Rodriguez received the HAI Salute to Excellence Appareo Pilot of the Year Award at the organization’s Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner in Las Vegas.
“The award recognizes a single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year or extraordinary professionalism over time. Rodriguez is being recognized for her actions during Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” reported AIN Online.
According to the site, she opened her own helicoper companies, called Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management. The companies “offer helicopter services throughout the Caribbean and yacht support around the world,” the site says, indicating she flew former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2017.
Her own home was struck by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, so she rode a bicycle for two hours to help with support missions, according to the site. She was also known for her passion in photography.
4. Rodriguez Got Her Start Flying as a Fixed-Wing Pilot
In 2016, the publication Rotor & Wing International wrote a story about flying with Rodriguez.
“Flying five hundred feet over the harbor at the foot of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Maria Rodriguez points out the blue-tarp scars dozens of buildings still bear two years after a pair of hurricanes devastated this and nearby Caribbean islands,” the article starts.
“We repositioned everything in the hangar to maximize what could come in,” she told Rotor & Wing International. “Everybody wants space in the hangar when there’s a hurricane coming. So, we made ourselves much smaller, in a smaller space and accommodated a whole lot of other aircraft.”
The article said that Rodriguez “began her flying career as a fixed-wing pilot” but then changed to helicopters.
“The company’s pilots have 25,000 collective accident, incident and violation free flight hours and more than 50 years of aviation experience,” the site reported of her own companies.
5. Rodriguez, Who Grew Up in St. Thomas, Was Her Company’s Most Requested Pilot
According to a bio on the Caribbean Buzz website, Rodriguez was the company’s most requested pilot. “Meet Maria, an incredible individual who puts her all into flying and our most requested pilot (must be the woman thing),” the bio reads.
“Maria has been flying for over 20 years, plus she grew up in St. Thomas and knows all the ins and outs of the USVI and BVI. A happy person at heart, she always makes the people around her smile and is sure to show you a good time! A genuine Bond Woman is what some of us call her,” the site says.
Of the company, the website says, “We are located in the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands and are the only FAA approved helicopter company. CBZ also provides service to Puerto Rico, Anguilla, and St. Maarten among others in the USVI and BVI.”
READ NEXT: The Death of William O’Neal.