Posted by: bj | May 28, 2010

Airline Pilot Story


 He  writes: My lead flight attendant came to me and  said, “We  have an H.R. On this flight.” (H.R.   Stands for human remains.) “Are they military?” I  asked.  
 ‘Yes’,   she said. 
 ‘Is   there an escort?’ I asked. 
 ‘Yes,   I already assigned him a seat’.  
 ‘Would   you please tell him to come to the flight deck. You  can board him  early,” I said..  
 A   short while later, a young army sergeant entered the  flight deck.  He was the image of the  perfectly  dressed soldier.    He introduced himself and  I asked him about his  soldier.  The escorts of  these fallen soldiers talk about  them as if they are  still alive and still with us.   
 ‘My  soldier is on his way back to   Virginia ,’  he said.  He  proceeded to answer my questions,  but offered no words.

 I   asked him if there was anything I could do for him and  he said  no.  I told him that he had the toughest  job in  the  military and that I appreciated the  work that he does for the  families of our fallen  soldiers. The first officer and I got up  out of our  seats to shake his hand.  He left the flight deck  to find his seat. 
 We   completed our preflight checks, pushed back and   performed an  uneventful departure.  About  30 minutes into our flight I  received a call from the  lead flight attendant in the cabin. ‘I  just found out  the family of the soldier we are carrying, is on board’, she said.  She then proceeded to tell me  that the  father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter  were escorting their  son, husband, and father home.    The family was upset  because they were  unable to see the container that the soldier was  in  before we left.  We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia  . 
 The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that  knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment  and being unable to see him was too much for him and  the family to bear.  He had  asked the flight  attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the  soldier  being taken off the airplane.. I could hear  the desperation in the  flight attendants voice when she  asked me if there was anything I  could do.. ‘I’m on  it’, I said. I told her that I would get back  to her.  
 Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the  form of  e-mail like messages.  I decided to  bypass this system and  contact my flight dispatcher  directly on a secondary radio. There  is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of the dispatcher. I was  in direct contact with the dispatcher..  I  explained the situation I had on board with the family  and what it was the family wanted.   He said he  understood and that he would get back to me.   
 Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher.   We  were going to get busy soon and I needed to  know what to tell the  family.  I sent a text  message asking for an update.  I  saved the return  message from the dispatcher and the following is  the  text: 
 ‘Captain,   sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There  is policy on  this now and I had to check on a few  things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will  meet the aircraft.  The team will  escort the family to the ramp and plane side.  A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family.  The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp.  It is a private area for the family only.  When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home.  Captain,  most of us here in flight control are veterans.    Please pass our condolences on to the family.  Thanks.’ 
 I  sent a message back telling flight control thanks for  a good job.   I printed out the message and gave  it to the lead flight  attendant to pass on to the  father.  The lead flight  attendant was very  thankful and told me, ‘You  have no idea how much this will mean to them.’ 
 Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and  landing.   After landing, we cleared the runway  and taxied to the ramp area.  The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway.  It  is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit.  When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller,  we were told that  all traffic was being held for us.  
 ‘There is a team in place to meet the  aircraft’, we were told.  It looked like it was all coming  together, then I  realized that once we turned the  seat belt sign off,  everyone would stand up at  once and delay the family from  getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the  copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop  short of the gate to make an  announcement to the passengers.   He did that and  the ramp controller said, ‘Take your time.’   
 I  stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake.   I pushed the  public address button and said,  ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is  your Captain speaking I  have stopped short of our gate to make a  special  announcement.  We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect.  His Name is  Private XXXXXX,  a soldier who recently lost his life.   Private XXXXXX is  under your feet in the cargo hold.  Escorting him today is  Army Sergeant  XXXXXXX.  Also, on board are his father,  mother,  wife, and daughter.  Your entire  flight crew is  asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to  allow the  family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.’  
 We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and  started our  shutdown procedures.  A couple of  minutes later I opened the cockpit door.  I  found the two forward flight  attendants crying,  something you just do not see.  I was told  that  after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft  stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit  the  aircraft. 
 When the family got up and gathered their things, a  passenger slowly  started to clap his hands.   Moments later more passengers  joined in and soon  the entire aircraft was clapping.  Words  of ‘God  Bless You’, I’m sorry, thank you, be proud, and other kind   words were uttered to the family as they made their  way down the  aisle and out of the airplane.  They  were escorted down to  the ramp to finally be with  their loved one.  
 Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the  announcement I  had made.  They were just words, I  told them,  I could  say them over and over again,  but nothing I say will bring back  that brave soldier.  
 I  respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event  and the  sacrifices that millions of our men and women  have made to ensure  our freedom and safety in these   United  States of AMERICA .  

Foot note: 
As a  Viet Nam Veteran I can only think of all the veterans  including the ones that rode below the deck on their way home and how they  we were treated. When I read things like this I am proud  that our country has not turned their backs on our soldiers  returning from the various war zones today and give  them the respect they so  deserve. 
I know every one who has served their country who reads this will have tears in their eyes, including  me.    Please send this on after a short prayer.. Prayer for our soldiers Don’t break it! 

‘Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. Amen..’ 

Prayer Request: When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops around the world. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm’s way, prayer is the very best one. 


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