* Blue Angel No. 8 *
On November 1, 1986, a corporate jet owned by Coca-Cola arrived at Elisabeth City, North Carolina, carrying the CEO and several members of the board of directors. At the same time as it was arriving, a Coast Guard Falcon 20 was beginning its takeoff when it blew both front tires causing the jet to veer off the runway and run into a fence line.
The jet was headed to Memphis, Tennessee to pick up a little girl by the name of "Crystal Grant" and carry her on to Good Samaritans Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas, to undergo a liver transplant. The pilots of the Coca-Cola plane watched the events and slowly began to hear the stories about the jet's mercy mission. The CEO and his passengers witnessed the scene and asked the pilots what was going on.
Once the CEO had learned of the situation he asked to be taken to the Coast Guard Station so he could speak with the station commander.
Once there he asked him if there was anything he could offer or do. The Commander said, in a frustrated voice, "Yeah, can you make miracles happen. We need a jet and we need one fast."
The CEO just smiled and said you've got one and pointed to his company jet. Within two hours the Coca-Cola jet was on its way to Memphis and the situation seemed under control. But unknown to them a similar scene was playing out in San Diego where the donor organ was being prepared for transport to Houston.
The aircraft lined up to take it to Houston had lost its ability to pressurize its cabin and a similar scramble was under away to find a replacement. Calls went out and everyone in San Diego made excuses from corporate CEOs to airline managers as to why they just couldn't help out.
Once word made its way to Elisabeth City, the situation was reaching its last window of opportunity for the surgeons. Time was now becoming an enemy. Again the CEO of Coca-Cola was called to help out and he jumped on the phone with his pilots now in Houston. They told him there was just no way they could go and retrieve the organ and then return to Houston in time for the operation to take place.
The CEO began to think and ponder what would be speedy enough to retrieve it in time. A call was placed to the Governor of Georgia and he then placed a call to the Governor of California requesting help.
On that day sitting on the ramp at the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego were 8 brand new F18's wearing the colors of the Blue Angels waiting to be debuted November 6th. It took four phone calls to reach the base commander and two more to reach the commander of the "Blues." In less than an hour, Navy Lt. Tony Less, in Blue Angel No.8, was gear up eastbound with his precious cargo in the rear ejection seat strapped in place by four dress belts.
Unbeknownst to the family or anyone in Houston, while all of this was unfolding, the local media had interviewed the little girl moments before she was placed into the prepping room for her surgery. A reporter asked her if she were scared. She said, "No I'm not worried. My mommy told me that my Angel would watch over me."
It was an ironic statement indeed. At that moment Blue Angel No.8 was coming off an Air National Guard refueling tanker over New Mexico and making a mad dash for Houston. The clock was still ticking, and with each movement of the hand went further against the surgeons.
With only 90 minutes to spare, Angel No. 8 landed on Houston's Hobby Runway 4L and rolled out to a stop surrounded by police cars and an ambulance to rush the organ to the hospital.
The transplant was successful and Crystal returned home to Memphis in time for Thanksgiving. The CEO of Coca-Cola lobbied the Fortune 100 companies to create Corporate Angel Network," the name inspired by the Blue Angels. To this day Blue Angel No.8 wears a small silhouette of an Angel praying on the canopy rail and the name "Crystal" written underneath.
A little over a month after the surgery the "Blues" made a planned detour to Memphis to say hello to a little girl named Crystal. And it was on that day, December 18, 1986, that Crystal met her Angel, the Angel who saved her life.
That was fourteen years ago. Today, Crystal is 24 and every year she is personally invited to attend a show near her home in Memphis as the guest of honor to the Blue Angels.
Background and Pictures by Tharrin's Coca Cola