Oklahoma Pilot Killed In Africa Was A Hero Every Day, Family Says
BROKEN ARROW, Oklahoma - A Broken Arrow pilot is being called a hero half a world away after sacrificing his life to save hundreds of others.
Captain Jay Wyatt worked in Nigeria for an oil and gas helicopter company.
His family said Wyatt was transporting workers from an offshore oil rig when the helicopter malfunctioned and crashed Wednesday. 12 people were on board - six survived, but Wyatt, the co-pilot, and four others lost their lives.
“We're still processing this. It's hard to put into words how much he's going to be missed,” Wyatt’s sister Samantha said.
Jay Wyatt was hard-working, witty and charismatic – always the life of the party, his wife Christina said.
“He'd do anything to make somebody laugh,” she said. “He just had a way about him. And I've never met anybody who didn't like him.”
Wyatt grew up in Virginia and after school, he joined the Navy, which is where he met his bride back in 1999 - love at first sight, she said.
“Everybody loved him; he just had this personality that was infectious. I knew when I met him that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” Christina said.
Their life together officially started in 2002. It wasn't long after daughters, Cheyenne, Haley and Regan came along.
“All three of them were daddy's girls,” she said. “Just seeing how he was with the kids. He made sure they were always taken care of.”
He also made sure to share the outdoors with his daughters, teaching them to fish and showing them how to enjoy a bonfire.
“He was the best dad. We were a team, he was my partner. He was my best friend,” Wyatt’s wife said.
When he wasn't home, he was half a world away, working six weeks at a time as a helicopter pilot for the Bristow Group.
Someone snapped a picture of Jay before his final flight in Nigeria, freezing a moment in time the brings his wife the slightest bit of peace.
“You could see the smile on his face. He just looks happy,” Christina said.
It doesn’t make it any easier, but she said her hard-working husband died doing what he loved.
She has few details, other than the helicopter malfunctioned - it was on fire and nose-diving toward a heavily populated town.
“I've been told that if it would have been any other pilot, it wouldn't have made it to the lagoon, it would have crashed right into the buildings,” Christina said.
Witnesses reported Jay maneuvered the smoking aircraft away from town and into a body of water, saving hundreds of strangers down below.
“It just says a lot about the kind of person he is, in that moment, when he knew it was going to crash either way, he still thought about all those other people to make it less tragic for everybody else. And that in itself was Jay, he always thought about everybody else,” Christina said.
At home, Wyatt was simple.
“He had like four shirts,” his sister said. “And they were all the same color,” his wife added smiling.
He didn’t care about the car he drove or material things, he just cared about his family.
“Even though he was gone for six weeks at a time, when he was home, he was dedicated to his family,” Christina said.
So while those in Africa call him a hero for saving a community, hero is what he'd been all along to his family.
“He's definitely a hero. He did everything he could do, even though,” Christina said, her voice breaking, “even though he lost his own life.”
“Yeah, he was the pilot who saved all these people's lives, he sacrificed his own to save others, but to us, we just adored him, and he was funny, and loving and smart - a man of integrity,” his sister said.
The family is waiting for Wyatt's body to be returned to the United States before scheduling funeral services.
He was the primary provider for the family, his wife, for the most part, stays home to caring for their children, two of which have special needs. A fundraising site has been set up to help the Wyatt family as they deal with their unimaginable loss.
“We're receiving condolences from all over the world, so it's pretty amazing to see how many people he touched,” Wyatt’s sister said.
The Bristow Group said the Accident Investigation Bureau is investigating the crash.
“We are shaken and deeply saddened by this tragic accident,” said Bristow’s Regional Director, Africa, Duncan Moore. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends and loved ones of all those on board.”
Its website says, “Bristow continues to cooperate fully with the AIB on the ongoing investigation and has recovered the aircraft that was involved in an accident in Lagos on August 12, 2015. The aircraft, a Sikorsky S76 C+, was certificated to carry 12 passengers plus two crew members. Bristow operated the aircraft configured for 10 passengers and two crew members.”