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Families fly over disaster site

LIHU‘E — There was no sun, and a light mist began to fall as the helicopter neared Kilauea Bay.

“Isn’t it always like this?” helicopter pilot Michael Gallagher said as the music of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, known as “Braddah IZ,” softened the thrum of the chopper blades yesterday.

“He was one of Daniel’s favorite singers,” Vivian Arroyo said softly. “Daniel had some of his albums.”

Vivian Arroyo is the mother of one of four victims still missing from last Tuesday’s flash flood. Along with husband Julio Arroyo, Vivian Arroyo was one of the guests of owners and operators of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, who provided the families of Daniel Arroyo and Christina McNees a flight so the families could pay final respects in the form of a memorial flower drop Tuesday.

Using two helicopters, the families were flown to the bay where the Kilauea Stream meets the ocean. The side doors were opened so flowers could be scattered. The flower drop was followed by a flight up to the Ka Loko Reservoir, and to the site where Daniel Arroyo and Christina McNees lived before their home was swept away.

They were scheduled to be married last Saturday, and McNees was expecting their baby in about a month.

The misting rain clouded the mountaintops and offered a glum tableau as the helicopter slowly made its way upriver from the bay.

Below, the search operations base had activity taking place, and a bit farther down the stream, below a muddy, 60-foot waterfall, more search activity was evidenced, as a boat waited for its passengers to conduct more operations.

Dan D’Amato, Daniel Arroyo’s friend from San Diego, pointed out the spot where Christina’s lifeless body was found, and flowers were offered from the aircraft.

Going upriver, Julio Arroyo pointed out the foundation that is all that’s left of the home where his son used to live. More flowers descended from above.

There were no words spoken as the helicopter circled the dam breach site at Ka Loko reservoir, just silent thoughts and flowers falling through the damp air, twirling their way earthward.

Jonna D’Amato was silent, deep in her thoughts, retreating immediately to the shuttle van following the flight. Vivian Arroyo recognized the need, and pulled the girl to her with a consoling hug.

“We needed that,” JoAnn Burns said following the short flight. Burns was talking with MaryAnn McNees, noting that they had talked with members of the search teams who showed them pictures pieced together so the families would have an idea of how great the devastation was.

“But you don’t really know until you see it, and we needed to see this,” the pair agreed.

Nani Silva, the Kaua‘i base manager for Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, said she pulled out all the stops to make this trip memorable for the families of the couple that was supposed to have celebrated a marriage over the past weekend.

Silva said she cleared everything with the company’s owners, David and Patti Chevalier, to offer the flight at no cost to the families.

“They were pleased to be able to do just this much for the families who suffered so much,” Silva said.

Owners and operators of Flourescence, a flower shop in Kalaheo, donated the flowers for the drop.

For some of the family members, their short trip to Kaua‘i ended as early as last night, as some of them left for home.

For others, their trip here is indefinite, as they wait for word on the four remaining victims from last Tuesday’s flood.

“We’re getting better because of the Kaua‘i people,” Vivian Arroyo said quietly.

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