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MAY GOD BLESS THIS AIRLINE CAPTAIN


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 on his own. 

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', he said. He 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 attendantsvoice when he asked me if there was 
anything I could do. 'I'm on it', I said. I told him that I would get back to him.

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 onboard 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 this 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 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 attendantscrying, 
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.

 

Send any comments or concerns to:  LarryDwyer (at) NewtonHighAlumni.com