Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Airlines, heed the story of Michael Matz: the man who saved two unaccompanied children sitting next to him after a plane crash

In light of the policies of two airlines to bar all men from sitting next to unaccompanied minors on planes, we thought this story should be publicized.

On July 19, 1989, Michael Matz was seated next to two unaccompanied children on United Airlines Flight 232 when tragedy struck mid-air. The plane lost an engine and its hydraulic system.

Mr. Matz kept the children calm, but the plane was doomed. It crashed in a Sioux City cornfield. The cabin tore apart and finally came to a stop in an upside-down position.

In all, 112 people died in that disaster, but Mr. Matz led the two unaccompanied children, Melissa Roth, 12, and her brother Travis, 9, to safety. The children's older brother, Jody, 14, seated elsewhere on the plane, also managed to escape.  Mr. Matz returned to the plane to search for other survivors, and then he came back to care for the Roth children, who were flying alone, for several hours.

Heroics aside, Mr. Matz has led a pretty amazing life. He's a six-time U.S. equestrian national champion. He made three Olympic teams and helped the US to a team silver medal in 1996 before carrying the flag in the closing ceremony.

Then, on a warm Saturday afternoon in May of 2006, the horse that Michael Matz trained, Barabaro, romped to a 6½-length victory in the Kentucky Derby. No one in the stands at Churchill Downs that day was happier than the three Roth children. All grown up now, they came to Louisville not to cheer on a horse, but to honor their champion, Michael Matz, who 17 years earlier had helped save them from disaster.