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After Maui fires broke out, Colorado pilot flew United Airlines plane to mainland during his vacation

Pilot named "hero" after flying plane from Maui to mainland during vacation
Pilot named "hero" after flying plane from Maui to mainland during vacation 03:02

The Eckelkamp family had a vacation in Hawaii before chaos struck. They were scheduled to fly out of Maui back to the mainland on Tuesday but got delayed for up to 33 hours after wildfires started.

Capt. Vince Eckelkamp, a United Airlines management pilot who lives in Colorado, saved the day and got his family and 300 people safely back to the mainland.

Kathy Eckelkamp is the pilot's wife. She's grateful her husband stepped up to help.

"Our friends and family have been calling him a hero, this is the man I married, this is what he does," said Kathy.

Eckelkamp Family

It all started early Tuesday morning, when the family left their hotel and began their journey to the Kahului Airport on Maui.  

Before they took off, they were warned to be cautious going through Lahaina. They say the things they saw have marked them forever.

"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," said Kathy.

Their daughter Kallie Eckelkamp considers herself blessed after learning they escaped the worst of it.

"It's so scary knowing that we were on Front Street a few hours before the fire started... if we'd stay for a couple hours, we could have been caught up on that," said Kallie.

The family's flight was canceled and when it was rescheduled the next day, no pilot was available.

Vince made it clear to the airline he was available to help.

"I got a call from the crew desk, because they knew I was available because I offered to augment and they said no, but this time I was it, the flight was going to be cancelled if no one volunteered, there was just no more pilots," said Vince.


With thousands of passengers stranded on the island - Eckelkamp and his family helped at least 300 people escape.

"This was a minor inconvenience for us, that's it, these people lost families, they lost their homes, they lost everything, very emotional," added Kathy.

As they process the damage, they were able to escape - one thing they will always remember are the countless stories people shared with them.

"We were relieved to come home, we were exhausted, but we had a home to come home to our hearts go out to Maui, it's devastating," said Kathy.

United Airlines has reimbursed the pilot for the ticket he originally bought for volunteering to fly the plane on his vacation day.

RELATED: How to help those affected by the Maui wildfires

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