Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker found himself in need of an assist to help the state fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
He called on the New England Patriots.
One of the team’s private airplanes on Thursday evening landed in Boston after returning from China carrying more than 1 million masks critical to healthcare providers fighting to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Members of the Massachusetts National Guard met the airplane and offloaded the containers of masks onto waiting trucks for transport to warehouses for distribution.
Baker secured the N95 masks from Chinese manufacturers, but had no way of getting them to the US. He reached out to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who loaned the Boeing 767 painted in the team’s colors and logo that is usually used to carry the team to and from NFL games.
Baker detailed the joint venture in a news conference, at one point getting emotional as the thanked the Kraft family for their assistance.
“The Krafts were terrific,” the Republican governor said. “They were a phone call away and immediately went to work on the logistics associated with this and did not stop until they could make it happen. This was a total team effort on every level.”
Kraft Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Jim Nolan said in an interview on Patriots.com radio that the Chinese government did not officially sign off on the trip until on Friday last week.
The hurdles included legal logistics that were only cleared thanks to cooperation involving multiple state, US and international entities, Nolan said.
Chinese technology company Tencent was a huge help in the process, Nolan said, adding that it agreed to gather the masks, got them through the inspection process, stayed with them to ensure their security and eventually their movement on to the Patriots’ airplane.
“This isn’t in their wheelhouse, but they thought it was the right thing to do,” Nolan said.
There was little margin for error once the airplane arrived in China, which granted the Patriots three hours to fill the airplane with the masks.
It was on the ground for 2 hours, 57 minutes according to flight tracker data Nolan monitored.
Tencent looked after approximately 1.7 million masks, while the Patriots’ airplane took on 1.2 million, Nolan said.
They are working with Tencent to bring additional equipment back from China via a cargo plane, he added.
The masks are to go into Massachusetts’ stockpile for distribution to medical personnel.
Nolan said that 300,000 of the masks would also be going to New York to help medical personnel there.
Rhode Island would also receive some of the masks, Baker said.
Patriots running back James White said in a conference call that he was not surprised Kraft stepped up to help.
“As soon as you step into the building, you see how much the Kraft family does helping out not only the Boston community, but the community across the world and it makes you want to help others,” White said.
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