Butler graduate killed in helicopter crash remembered for love of the arts

Daniel Thompson (Submitted photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - A helicopter crash in New York City Sunday is being felt in Indianapolis. One of the five passengers on board the sightseeing helicopter was a Butler University graduate.

Daniel Thompson is remembered on campus for his beautiful voice, his love for the arts and love for the Big Apple.

"He loved singing, loved participating, loved being around all of the other students in the Jordan College of the Arts,” said Butler Arts Administration Associate Professor and Chair Susan Zurbuchen. “He always like to drag his friends to arts events."

After moving to New York City, Thompson sang with the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus for a decade and put his Arts Administration degree from Butler to work as board president for the past two years.

Daniel Thompson graduated from Butler University in 2006. (Submitted photo)
Daniel Thompson graduated from Butler University in 2006. (Submitted photo)
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"He always knew he wanted to go to New York,” said Zurbuchen. “He wanted to live in the big city, not because he wanted to be a performer, but because he wanted to live in New York. He had several different jobs, but I was thinking about this last night. They were all related to really working with people."

Thompson was working on a sightseeing helicopter Sunday evening that crashed into the East River, killing all five passengers. Only the pilot survived.

"Shocking when you hear and it's such a tragic way, even though he liked to travel,” said Mike Vernon, a friend of Thompson. “He was an adventurous person. So, if you're going to go out, I mean it's a terrible way, but he was doing what he loved."

Thompson graduated from Butler in August 2006. Not long after graduation, he lived for six months in the guest room of Zurbuchen’s home, serving as a house sitter and taking care of her cats while she was often away caring for her ailing mother in Wisconsin.

"He called a month ago and he said he was having a great time and everything in his life was fitting together, which is why it feels so sad,” said Zurbuchen, who has worked at Butler for 29 years.

Mike Vernon met Thompson at an Indianapolis bar while Thompson was still a student. Vernon says they became instant friends. They stayed in contact after Thompson moved to New York City. During a visit to New York, Thompson took Vernon to his first opera, in English, at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Mike Vernon (left) and Daniel Thompson (Submitted photo)
Mike Vernon (left) and Daniel Thompson (Submitted photo)
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"You meet people in your life, and they can be in your life for a short period of time, but they can really have a major impact,” said Vernon. “Daniel was that kind of person. He meant something to people and he was genuine. He was real. He wasn't a bitter type of individual. He really shared himself with you. What better gift can anyone do?"

At 34, Thompson was the oldest of the five victims. The others were all under 30, including an intern at Business Insider, a Texas firefighter, an Argentine woman on vacation and a former basketball assistant coach, who was recently engaged.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are looking at the floatation devices and passenger harnesses onboard that helicopter to see if they worked properly. They also hope to find the phones and cameras of those who died to see if there are any clues stored on the devices.

The pilot told investigators he thinks one of the passengers’ bag straps may have pulled the emergency fuel shutoff lever. He cited engine failure when he made an emergency mayday call just before the crash.

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