John and Veronica O’Donnell, both 45, were vacationing in Honolulu to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary when tragedy struck.
The nine-day island-hopping excursion included a helicopter tour over the spectacular Kauai forests. Problems arose shortly after the helicopter took off, however, and the pilot radioed to report a hydraulics problem.
At around 3 p.m., the helicopter crashed on the runway at Princeville Airport, killing O’Donnell and four others, including the pilot. Veronica, known to friends and family as “Bernie,” survived the crash but was seriously injured and had to undergo surgery at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu last Saturday.
“I’ve been crying since last Friday, it will take a long time before I stop,” said family friend Eileen Timlin-McCormack, who has known John all his life.
The National Transport Safety Board said they did not yet know what had caused the A-star 350BA helicopter to crash when contacted by the Echo, ruling out only weather as a possible factor. They are also investigating a second helicopter crashed that happened later in the week around the same area.
O’Donnell was born in New York City, but moved back to his parents hometown of Ballina, Co. Mayo as a child. That is where he met Veronica, who grew up less than 20 miles away. The couple married at 20 years of age and moved back to New York. They had two children and lived in the Queens suburb of Sunnyside for several years, before moving settling down in Valley Stream.
Friends and neighbors told media that O’Donnell, a carpenter by trade, was an avid handyman who would often do odd jobs for his neighbors. An enthusiastic fisherman, he owned a boat and would take regular trips out to sea. Veronica trained as a nurse and later went back to college to do a master’s degree. She currently works as a nursing instructor at Winthrop University Hospital.
Timlin said the couple were fiercely proud of their children, 24-year old Elaine O’Donnell, a nurse and 23-year-old David O’Donnell, who works as a financial advisor in Manhattan. Both are currently in Honolulu with their mother.
“His wife and kids were his life,” Timlin-McCormack told the Echo. “He was a most unusual man. He didn’t spend all his time out meeting his buddies in the pub. He went home to his family every day. If he went out, he went out with his wife. He and his wife were like twins, if that’s possible. They were so close it was beyond belief.”
“Veronica is such a lovely person,” she continued. “Anything that was going on, she’d call us up and say ‘come on over.’ They were great hosts.”
It is expected that O’Donnell will be buried in Mayo alongside his father, who died 10 months ago.