Stories of people stepping up in times of disasters remind us their are heroes among us. One such story is that of Vince Eckelkamp, a Denver man and a line training manager at United Airlines. Eckelkamp booked a family vacation to Hawaii and never imagined that he would be the one flying the plane back home.
The Eckelkamp family was heading out of Maui on August 8, when chaos ensued because of the wildfires burning through Maui. Their flight was initially scheduled to leave on time at 8 p.m. but after several delays it was canceled, leaving them stranded at the airport. Eckelkamp explained that flight attendants couldn’t make it to the airport because of the fires and the airline was unable to track them down due to poor connection.
The flight was rescheduled to noon the next day and the Eckelcamp family along with other passengers on the plane were forced to spend the night at the airport as there were no hotel rooms available. High winds had knocked out power to most of the island so, as it turned out, that the airport was one of the safer places on the island with power, running water and food.
Eckelkamp said he knew the pilot who was scheduled to fly the plane the next day, so he texted him to let him know that he can step in if needed. Eckelkamp explained that due to limited flights and the crisis, the entire situation was a logistical nightmare. The next morning, the flight again was delayed from noon to 3:30 p.m. and Eckelkamp, once again, let his teammates know that he was available, should the need arise.
And soon enough, his colleague reached out and asked if he would still be willing to fly the plane to San Francisco. Fortunately, Eckelkamp had his license with him along with his earpiece and flashlight – everything that he needed to fly safely. However, he did not have his uniform and needed approval from the flight office duty manager to fly out of uniform. Around 330 passengers were expected to fly on the 737, which usually does not fly between Honolulu and Maui.
Eckelkamp has received praise from his colleagues, friends and family but he modestly said “I just did a small piece. The locals are the real heroes. What they were going through, and now what they have to rebuild for their families and homes and everything else. I mean, it’s just, it’s a lot for them.”