In the days after the horrific Las Vegas mass shooting, one painful task remains: getting out-of-state victims back home for funeral services.
A Fort Wayne company, Eagle's Wings Air, is playing a major role in making that happen for grieving families. It is the only business in the U.S. that works with funeral homes and major air carriers to make those connections. In the case of Las Vegas, the company and airlines are waiving all costs, Frank Kaiser, president and CEO of Eagle's Wings Air, said Wednesday.
Kaiser described the aftermath of the Sunday shooting as still unfolding, with some bodies still on law enforcement hold.
Eagle's Wings has assisted in three transfers so far and is working on others, he said. While Kaiser declined to disclose the states where bodies were transferred, people came for last weekend's country music concert from as far away as Alaska, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
“Of course, when this event happened we were all stunned with what we were seeing on TV,” Kaiser said. “On Monday, Eagle's Wings Air was almost immediately in contact with the corporate offices of the cargo divisions of all the major airlines ... talking about how we can partner to help support the victims' families and funeral service in this tragedy.”
Kaiser, an airline industry veteran, started the company nearly 10 years ago with David McComb, former owner and operator of D.O. McComb and Sons Funeral Homes. The company has transported more than 100,000 human remains since, Kaiser said.
Normally, a funeral home works with a family, and the funeral director contacts Eagle's Wings Air if transportation is needed. The funeral home pays for Eagle's services and passes the cost to the family. In this case, the company has partnered with two major airlines that have representatives at a family assistance center in Las Vegas, Kaiser said.
“The funeral service community, literally thousands of funeral homes all across the country, are aware of our service and our offering and we're the leading logistic provider in this area,” he added.
The company has worked behind the scenes in the aftermath of mass killings before. In 2013, it volunteered to arrange shipment of the body of Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev to his native Russia when no cemetery was willing to take the body. The offer proved unnecessary when Tsarnaev was buried at an undisclosed location.
The company was also involved after a gunman killed 49 people inside an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last year, Kaiser said.
“It's just not something we would ever have planned for,” he added, “but here we've seen two years in a row a situation where Eagle's Wings Air and the major carriers really need to come together and just do what we can to support the funeral service community and their efforts to support the victims' families.”