Survivors of a trip to Cancun, Mexico, during a hurricane last month gave a big thanks Tuesday to the air service that rescued them.
About two dozen people turned out to present plaques and swap "war stories" of the unintentionally eventful tour of Mexico in September sponsored by Morris Air Travel.Hurricane Gilbert, which raised Cain with island and coastal areas, halted air and sea travel to Mexico. That in turn sent Morris representatives in Salt Lake City scrambling to help the 180 people who went on the trip through Morris Air Service.
"All of these people here wanted to participate in presenting this award to you," said Dave Waldner as he offered awards to Morris employees during a surprise party at the firm's Salt Lake offices.
Waldner and several other tourists wore "I survived Gilbert" T-shirts at the ceremony.
Morris Air Service employees Greg Jewkes and Rusty McNeal were given plaques that thanked them for their work in getting the tourists out of the Mexican area, which was hit with torrential rains and winds to 175 mph.
A third Morris employee who was not present, Scott Hoskings, also was honored. Hoskings is the Morris representative in Cancun.
"I can honestly tell you they did not eat or sleep for two days and two nights worrying about you," Jewkes told the grateful tourists.
Morris chartered a plane Sept. 14 to pick up the tourists, who were among 5,000 Americans stranded when the hurricane knocked out power and air travel to the Mexican city.
"One thing we learned is if we ever go through another hurricane, we'll go through Morris," said Ron Palmer, a paramedic from Salt Lake County.
Some of the Utahns reported being assaulted by other tourists who were upset at not being retrieved by their air charter service.
Jewkes said he had $9,000 in $20 bills when he arrived. "I had enough money in my pocket to bribe any Mexican official."
The Morris representatives said the Federal Aviation Administration finally allowed them to get the Lear jet into the country after the federal agency suspended flights during the hurricane.
They arrived with candy, water and jogging outfits for the stranded tourists, not knowing what the situation was as communications between the United States and Mexico was non-existent for 72 hours after Gilbert hit.
Holly Soter, tour agent manager, said the awards were "really important to Morris Air Service. It's our first natural disaster."