An airline pilot went above and beyond after learning that the remains of a fallen soldier, as well as the soldier’s family, were on his flight.
Captain Richard Rodriguez was getting ready for a flight when a flight attendant came to him to let him know that, “We have an H.R. on this flight.” H.R. stands for human remains.
The captain asked if the body was military and if there is an escort for the fallen soldier on the flight. She said that there was and Rodriguez asked if the escort could be boarded early and sent to the flight deck.
Rodriguez spoke to the soldier’s escort and asked him if there was anything he could do for him. He told him that he has the hardest job in the military.
A short while later, after takeoff, the lead flight attendant called the cabin and informed the captain that the soldier’s family was also on board.
Rodriguez wrote about that day on the Love What Matters Facebook page:
“‘I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is also 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.”
The flight attendant asked if there was anything at all that could be done for the soldier’s family. Rodriguez told her, “I’m on it.”
The captain says he then bypassed the normal system of airborne communication and called the dispatcher directly through a secondary radio. He explained the situation to the dispatcher and asked if there was any way they could arrange to help the family. The dispatcher said he would get back to him.
After about two hours, as the flight neared its destination, Rodriguez had still not gotten an answer, so he sent a text message to follow up.
Finally, he got a response:
“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.”
The captain has the message printed out and sent the message to the family.
“You have no idea how much this will mean to them,” the lead flight attendant told him.
When the flight landed, Rodriguez decided to make a special announcement. He stopped short of the gate and set the parking brake.
He pushed the public address button and said the following:
“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. 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.”
After the plane pulled forward to the gate and prepared for passengers to leave, Rodriguez opened the cockpit door to find two flight attendants crying. He was told that after coming to a full stop, every passenger onboard waited in their seats for the soldier’s family to leave the plane.
While the family gathered their things and left the aircraft, one passenger started to clap for the family and soon, every passenger on the flight decided to join him. As the family walked off the plane, passengers all sent the family off with messages such as, “God Bless You,” “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you.”
“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.”