Pilot on Vacation Ended Up Flying 300 People Out of Maui

United captain says he's happy he could help
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2023 4:04 PM CDT
Pilot on Vacation Stepped Up to Help in Maui
People gather at the Kahului Airport while waiting for flights Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Kahului, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A pilot who was on vacation in Hawaii when wildfires raced through Maui says he ended up in "polo shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes flying the airplane back." United Airlines Capt. Vince Eckelkamp and his family were due to fly out from Kahului Airport on Maui on Tuesday. Amid high winds and power outages, they decided to head to the airport early, and they traveled through Lanahai hours before fire devastated the town, CBS Colorado reports. "It was crazy, there were powerlines down, trees down, couple people walking, and they were getting pelted with sand and debris and roof shingles, it was like we were in a vortex," says his wife, Kathy Eckelkamp.

After they got to the airport, their flight was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. Eckelkamp says he realized there was a shortage of flight crew and offered to volunteer. "I knew the line check pilot and I texted him and said, 'Hey, I'm available to augment you if you'd like," he tells 9News. He ended up flying around 300 people, including his wife and daughter, back to the US mainland on a flight that wouldn't have left if he hadn't stepped up.

Eckelkamp, who is based in Denver, says he's happy he could help. "I just feel like I'm such a small piece of such a huge puzzle," he says. "And there's just so much that Maui needs right now and my part in it was so small and I'm so glad I was able to do it." 9News reports that United Airlines sent two planes to Hawaii on Friday packed with supplies for the American Red Cross. The death toll from the Maui fires now stands at 93, and officials have warned that it will rise further as searches continue. (More Hawaii wildfires stories.)

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