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A pilot's sense of mission takes flight

By Hu Meidong in Fuzhou and Xu Haoyu in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-18 07:15
Zhong Rui, a captain of Xiamen Airlines, says it was his first time flying with a mask on while executing a special mission to bring home Chinese stranded in the Philippines. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It was a special announcement for a special flight. Captain Zhong Rui told Xiamen Airlines flight MF818: "Our country is your bedrock. Welcome home!"

The 34-year-old was executing a special mission, bringing home Chinese stranded in the Philippines by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Xiamen Airlines opened an extra route from Manila to Quanzhou, Fujian province, every day from Feb 5 to 10. About 1,000 people were brought home in total.

Zhong flew every day from Feb 5 to 7.

"It was my first time flying with a mask on," he says.

"I wasn't worried when I received the order. I'm an optimistic person."

The ground crew warmly welcomed him when he first arrived at the airport in Manila. Airport staffers asked to snap photos with the Chinese passengers and shaped their hands into hearts as the plane prepared for flight.

Two passengers were determined to have fevers an hour after takeoff.

One was from Hubei province, the capital of which, Wuhan, is the epicenter of the outbreak. But neither had visited the city.

The cabin crew made sure every passenger wore a mask and tried to boost the moods of people sitting around the passengers with fevers.

"I think anxiety partly caused their fevers. And the plane was full,"Zhong recalls.

When they landed at Quanzhou Jinjiang International Airport, quarantine workers first brought the two passengers off the plane for examinations and found they weren't infected with the novel coronavirus.

And the rest of the passengers were divided into groups of 50 to disembark and line up for body-temperature tests.

Zhong says he was happy to see the people smile upon arrival.

The native of Longyan, Fujian province, mainly flies between China and Southeast Asia. The Xiamen Airlines captain won first and third prizes in aviation safety in 2017 and 2019, respectively. This is his 10th year flying.

He points out his job is nothing compared with the work of frontline medical workers. But he's satisfied to have accomplished his mission.

"I'll always remember this special assignment," he says.

"It's a recognition of my piloting expertise and is meaningful to my career."

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