UVALDE, Tex. – A Sam Houston University student couple died in a helicopter crash in the hill country of south Texas early Sunday within hours of their wedding, authorities reported. The pilot of the craft also died.

The victims were identified as newlyweds William Byler and Bailee Ackerman Byler, both 24, and pilot Gerald Lawrence, 76.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, which the agency said happened at about 1:47 a.m.

The crashed Bell 206B helicopter and the bodies of the victims were found near the top of a 400-foot hill about 15 miles from the ranch, and 80 miles west of San Antonio. Authorities said it appeared the craft struck the hill.  

The couple married Saturday evening at the ranch of the groom’s father in Uvalde County, boarding the helicopter following the reception. Family members said they were en route to their honeymoon hotel.

The helicopter was owned by Byler’s father, said Steve Kennedy, a Uvalde County justice of the peace who attended the wedding. He said Lawrence, a veteran of the Vietnam War, had piloted the copter for about 20 years.

“It is really sad,” said Kennedy. “Tragic.”

Sam Houston University's student newspaper said the the couple were members of the school's rodeo team. The paper said Byler was a senior majoring in agriculture engineering and his bride a senior in agriculture communications.

“It is with deepest sadness that we announce the tragic passing of two Bearkats  … in a helicopter accident departing their wedding,” the Houstonian said.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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