BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker found himself in need of an assist to help the state fight the coronavirus pandemic.
He called on the New England Patriots.
The team’s private plane landed in Boston from China on Thursday evening carrying more than a million masks critical to health care providers fighting to control the spread of the virus. Members of the Massachusetts National Guard met the plane 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 U.S. Baker said Thursday an earlier order for 3 million masks had been confiscated at the Port of New York.
He reached out to Patriots team 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 Thursday, at one point getting emotional as the thanked the Kraft family for their assistance.
“The Krafts were terrific," the 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.”
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“On behalf of nurses, doctors, CNAs and so many other support staff and health care providers, thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Melissa Jocelyn, nursing director at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The National Guard worked into Thursday night to unload the masks, transporting the supplies to a warehouse to be inventoried and then distributed across the state.
“This gear will make an enormous difference,” Baker said. “This shipment comes at critical time as we prepare for anticipated surge in the coming weeks ahead.”
Kraft Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Jim Nolan said in an interview on Patriots.com radio that the Chinese government didn’t officially sign off on the trip until March 27. Nolan said the hurdles included legal logistics that were only cleared thanks to cooperation involving multiple state, U.S. and international entities.
Chinese technology company Tencent was a huge help in the process, Nolan said. 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’ plane.
“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 plane with the masks. They were on the ground for 2 hours, 57 minutes according to flight tracker data Nolan monitored.
On its way back, the plane and its 10-person crew stopped in Alaska to gain clearance from the United States before heading back here to Massachusetts.
Tencent looked after approximately 1.7 million masks. The Patriots’ plane took on 1.2 million, Nolan said. They are working with Tencent to bring additional equipment back from China via a cargo plane
The masks were sent to Massachusetts’ stockpile for distribution to medical personnel. On Friday a shipment of 300,000 masks was hauled to NYC through Rhode Island, where Mass. State Troopers were joined by Conn. State Troopers to help escort the Patriots truck.
Nolan said 300,000 of the masks will also be going to New York to help medical personnel there. Baker said Rhode Island will also receive some of the masks.
Patriots running back James White said in a conference call Thursday that he wasn’t 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.