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Hawaiian Airlines crews return home after ferrying Afghan refugees across the US

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 8:38 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 9:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Flight attendants and pilots for Hawaiian Airlines are returning from a six-day mission to ferry Afghan evacuees from the East Coast to temporary refugee facilities across the mainland.

The U.S. Department of Defense activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which includes 18 aircraft from Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Airlines, Omni Air and United Airlines, to aid the evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.

The flights were emotional for the crew members, who knew that their passengers were on a one-way flight to a safe but uncertain future.

“It was my calling. I had to do it. I had to take care of these people,“ said veteran flight attendant Maydell Morgan.

“We have the opportunity to go out and serve on a much bigger level,” said fellow flight attendant Cherilyn Moloney.

Those passengers were a far cry from the usual planeloads of vacationers.

“We got to see people that had their entire worldly possessions in a garbage bag thrown over their shoulder,” said First Officer Russell Flynn. “And you hear about that, but to actually see it really rings home a lot more than it usually does.”

“Well, really they have an opportunity to be safe. So when you’re safe, that’s something we all take for granted. But for them, life is not safe,” said Moloney.

“We brought them to safety. And we brought them freedom. And every day of their lives now they don’t have to worry. They’re not in fear of their lives,” said Morgan.

Hawaiian Airlines crews made 13 flights, transporting nearly 3,000 adults and 180 infants and children to facilities in Indiana, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin.

The vast majority of the passengers didn’t speak English, but the flight crews overcame the language barrier with signs and volunteer interpreters.

But some needed no words at all.

“A lot of the passengers, when they board, would put their hand over their heart as a greeting, which is standard over there,” said Flynn. “But you could see in their eyes it meant more than that.”

“They felt it, and we felt it when they went like this,” said Morgan, putting her hand over her heart. “We felt it. And that brought tears to our eyes.”

“It was probably the most memorable flight of my aviation career, and it’s a real struggle not to cry every time I talk about it, to be honest,” said Flynn, a former military pilot who was piloting his first refugee flights.

Meanwhile, flight attendants Morgan and Moloney each have more than 50 years of experience as flight attendants, and were part of previous Hawaiian flights for Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

They welcome the opportunity to do more.

“I would do it in the blink of an eye, again,” Morgan said without hesitation when asked.

In all, 36 flight attendants and 13 pilots were involved in the mission on two Hawaiian A-330 aircraft.

“They have no idea what life is going to hold for them in the future, but they were appreciative that they were safe,” said Flynn. “And we were just very privileged to be a part of that.”

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