Crash victim made final call

KAHULUI – Moments after George Balberdi ended his cellphone conversation with his wife, Tremaine, who was on a chartered flight home from Lanai, their home phone rang.

No one was on the line, but George said it was his wife, calling home one last time.

“She tried (to call),” George said, noting that he saw Tremaine’s phone number come up. He and his daughter, Malia Balberdi, believe that Tremaine called “to say something.”

“I guess she never had the chance,” said George, who at times sobbed and tried to hold back tears during an interview with The Maui News at the couple’s Kahului home Friday.

The plane with Tremaine aboard crashed shortly after takeoff from Lanai Airport on Wednesday night. She, Planning Department planner Kathleen Kern and the pilot, Richard “Dick” Rooney, were killed in the fiery crash in a fallow pineapple field about 1 mile southwest of the airport.

Shortly before the final call at 9:05 p.m. Wednesday, George had just said goodbye to Tremaine, who called him while her chartered flight was readying to take off. As a Planning Department secretary, Tremaine, 52, had traveled with other county staff to Lanai for a planning commission meeting Wednesday night. The team was returning to Maui.

George recalled his wife telling him during their cellphone conversation: “I’ll see you at home, OK. Love you.”

He replied a “love you” and the two hung up not knowing that those would be their last words to each other.

Two days after the crash, George and Malia continued to mourn the loss of Tremaine, whom they called a model wife, mother and grandmother.

George said his wife of 32 years was always willing to lend a hand and encouraging people to do their best.

“If anyone was down, she would encourage them,” he said.

She also was an organizer and planner, making sure her grandson, Geovanni Breucop, 5, had a clean uniform for tee ball, did his homework and that his tee-ball team had benches to sit on.

Tremaine planned out the whole itinerary for the family’s last big trip together last March to Disneyland.

“She was on it,” said George, a cook at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

George and Tremaine met more than three decades ago at a family party. At the time, he was head coach for the Baldwin High School junior varsity football team while Tremaine was a senior at the school. George graduated from Baldwin in 1976 and Tremaine in 1979.

They were married in 1982. Their daughter, Malia, was born in 1983.

Tremaine was about to see her own daughter married; Malia is set to wed her fiance, Alvaro, on April 12.

“I think she wants me to do it,” Malia said about the wedding. “(But) how am I going to walk down the aisle and not see my mom?”

Ever the organizer and dedicated mother, Tremaine planned Malia’s wedding shower, helped her to buy her gown and even made the wedding favors, which George showed Malia on Friday.

Mother and daughter were going to look at the gown this weekend.

For Malia, her mother was a constant in her life. She not only lived with her mother and father but also worked in the Planning Department with her mother, who was a senior secretary in the Zoning Division. With Malia a zoning inspector, the two used to go to work together and saw each other in the office.

“I open the door, there she is,” Malia said of her mother at the office.

At first, Malia said she was worried about working with her mother because of the fear that the two might become enemies being together at home and on the job, but “it worked out.”

She added that Tremaine was well liked in the office and loved her job. She worked for the county for 25 years.

At home, grandson Geovanni was a “grammy’s boy,” said Malia. Grandma also got the boy ready for school and helped him with homework.

On Wednesday before leaving for Lanai, Tremaine told Malia to make sure Geovanni’s shoes were shined and his clothes were neat because he was to receive an award from Kahului Elementary School.

Geovanni cried when told his grandmother had died. On Friday, the boy told his mother that grandma was in heaven.

The family is still awaiting positive identification of Tremaine, which will be done through dental records, George said. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

What will bring closure to this tragic event is knowing the cause of the crash of the chartered Maui Air flight, he said.

“I want to know what happened. To me, sorry is not enough. All you had to do is say no (we are not flying). I don’t care if they wanted to come home,” George said.

He heard from relatives on Lanai that it was windy Wednesday night. He was frustrated over the possibility that the plane should not have flown that night and that the crash could have been avoided.

“It’s always safety first,” he said.

He said he also is considering legal action regarding the crash.

“Sorry is not enough. . . . (I) come home, go to bed, she’s not there,” he said.

Malia said her mother and father were inseparable and hardly ever slept apart. The couple never went to bed angry and made sure they had a date night every week, the family said. George said their dates included dinner or a movie or just a stroll down Front Street in Lahaina.

Her mother and father still held hands, Malia added.

After working the breakfast shift and handling his banquet, room service, and other food and beverage duties, George would pick up Tremaine at work for a short lunch.

He said that Tremaine was happy and smiling when he picked her up from work to take her to the airport Wednesday afternoon.

He and Tremaine were both looking forward to their future together and were eager to travel, he said. Tremaine wanted to go to Oklahoma to visit her brother and to go on an ocean cruise. George, who gets seasick, said he wasn’t so fond of a cruise but would have done it for Tremaine.

His wife also loved to draw and to make crafts and was planning to take some drawing classes, he said.

But those dreams are gone, and there are just fond memories. George and Malia wondered Friday how they will go on in life.

“How do you move (on)? How do you live?” Malia asked.

George said he would never marry again and told Tremaine that as well.

“To me, she’s the greatest mom and greatest wife,” he said. “I know I can’t find anyone like that ever again.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at