Delegate's Cousin Pilots
First Flight After 911 —
'Uplifting Ending to
A Very Sad Week'
first American Airlines flight following the September 11th terrorist
attacks readies for takeoff..
Look at the "wallpaper" on Judy Hice’s
computer screen and you will seen the photo of sleek, shiny jet rolling down a
runaway. Not just any jet. This was the first American Airlines plane to take
the air following the September 11 terrorist attacks. And, as the president of
UE Local 1004 will proudly tell you — it was commanded by her cousin Mike
Hice. Look again, and you will notice an American flag flying from Captain
Mike’s cockpit. And as Judy will tell, there’s a story behind those Stars
Assigned to fly the first flight out of Reno, Captain Mike
decided his plane had to have an American flag. In an e-mail to his family, he
said, "[as] the day that we would return to the skies approached, I
remembered that American Airlines used to fly a small company pennant out of
the Copilot window in the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, and the 1960’s on
their propeller aircraft. The tradition was lost when the company moved into
jet aircraft in the early 1960’s. Being assigned to fly the first flight out
of Reno, I decided that no matter what, I would have a flag to fly from my
airplane when we departed. My crew and I set out to find a flag on the last
day of our stay in Reno."
In the patriotic outpouring following the September 11 tragedy
that proved to be nearly impossible: every store was sold out; even the VFW
had no more to spare. Captain Mike was advised to call a local radio talk
OFFERS POUR IN
"When I called the station and told them my plan and the
need for a flag, they put me right on the air," Captain Mike relates. He
explained his plan — and the calls immediately started coming. Within
seconds, Mike had two offers from radio listeners who promised to deliver
flags to the hotel on their way home from work. The next caller offered yet
another flag. Not needing a third flag, Mike was about to decline the offer
when the man on the other end of the line said, "I’m in the lobby now,
come on down."
In the ten minutes Captain Mike was out of his room he
garnered 67 messages, as strangers offered use of their fathers’ burial
flags, a parade ceremonial flag with gold fringe and a flag that had flown on
the battleship USS California, among other variants of Old Glory.
"We flew the flag out the window from the moment we
arrived at the aircraft until we took the runway for take off," says
Captain Mike. "We received all kinds of compliments from other company
airplanes out on the taxiways with us, from the air traffic controllers, and
from the ground personnel."
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the pilot says,
"it was an uplifting ending to a very sad and trying week."
Judy Hice is a computer technician at Henry Mayo Newhall
Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita, Calif.; she was recently elected financial
secretary of UE District 10 and a member of the union’s national executive
board. She was a delegate to this year's UE National Convention, during which
she learned about this story.