Pilot on family vacation volunteers to fly hundreds of people from Maui to mainland US to escape wildfires

A United Airlines pilot who was on vacation in Hawaii with his family is being called a hero after he volunteered to fly hundreds of people to safety.

Vince Eckelkamp, a United Airlines management pilot, and his family were scheduled to fly back home Tuesday, but due to the extreme circumstances their flight was delayed 33 hours before it was eventually canceled.

Since there was a major crew shortage, Eckelkamp volunteered his services. At first he was told no, but then he was told yes. Without his help the flight would be canceled yet again.

Vince, Kathy and their daughter Kallie woke up early Tuesday morning with no power and the sound of a “freight train running through the hotel room because of the winds.”

The family packed their bags and headed to the airport early.

“The first we heard there were fires was when we were checking out and the person checking us out said be really careful, there’s wires down and there’s some fires kicking up,” Kathy told 9 News.

The Eckelkamps made it to the Kahului Airport relatively unscathed.

However, when they arrived their flight was delayed multiple times before United Airlines had to cancel it due to lack of crew.

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After learning about the issues with the crew getting to the airport and the devastation so many faced, Vince offered to help.

“I knew the line check pilot and I texted him and said, ‘Hey, I’m available to augment you if you’d like,'” Vince said. “The crew desk didn’t need me initially.”

The following day Vince received a call from the United crew desk.

“They knew I was available because I’d offered to augment, and asked me if I could fly. And I said of course, anything I can do to help out,” he said. “But here I am in a polo shirt, shorts and tennis shoes flying the airplane back. And I was really comfortable!” 

Several hours later Vince helped at least 300 people escape Maui.

LAHAINA, HAWAII – AUGUST 11: In an aerial view, homes and businesses are seen that were destroyed by a wildfire on August 11, 2023 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Dozens of people were killed and thousands were displaced after a wind-driven wildfire devastated the town of Lahaina on Tuesday. Crews are continuing to search for missing people. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Seeing my dad be able to take care of these people and take them back to their homes or back to somewhere else where they’re safer meant a lot to me,” Kallie said.

While the Eckelkamps are now home safe and sound in Denver, their thoughts are with those who lost everything.

“This was a minor inconvenience for us, that’s it, these people lost families, they lost their homes, they lost everything, very emotional,” Kathy told CBS Denver.


Thank you, Vince for volunteering to fly. Without your help hundreds of people would have been stranded on Maui, looking for a way off the island.