SAN DIEGO — A 95-year-old former soldier died last weekend aboard a so-called Honor Flight carrying World War II veterans home to San Diego after an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Washington, D.C.
Frank Manchel collapsed about an hour before the chartered American Airlines jet was due to land Sunday, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Two physicians including his own son, Dr. Bruce Manchel, were unable to revive him.
"It was almost instantaneous," said Dave Smith, founder of Honor Flight San Diego. "He was laughing, chatting, having a good time — and then he collapsed."
Chaplains prayed over the body and it was covered with an American flag.
As the plane was descending to its destination, former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, the daughter of a World War II veteran, asked Dr. Manchel if he was up for honoring his father with the song "God Bless America."
He agreed, and the plane was filled with song, the newspaper reported.
Fellow veterans saluted as they passed by Frank Manchel's body while exiting the plane. Medical personnel, firefighters and law enforcement officers also saluted as the body was taken from the plane.
"My father's passing was the ending to the most amazing weekend, surrounded by his newest best friends," Dr. Manchel said in a statement Monday. "We thank all of you — Honor Flight San Diego, American Airlines, San Diego International Airport, friends, and supporters for your concern and for allowing the weekend to be so special for all of us to share together.
Zimmerman said the elder Manchel was in an upbeat mood when she chatted with his family on Saturday.
"He was 100 percent engaged, proud, humble — as these veterans are," Zimmerman said. "You could just tell how proud they all were of him. It was just wonderful, a loving, loving family."
American Airlines offered to take the veteran's remains and relatives to Michigan, where services and burial are planned.
Six other deaths have happened on Honor Flights originating from other cities.
"We know this is a potential situation," said Smith. "We want to honor these veterans, but this is one of our worst fears that this might happen. We do everything we can to make sure these veterans are safe."
The non-profit Honor Flight Network was founded to enable aging veterans to visit the National World War II Memorial, which was completed in 2004.
The organization plans to eventually focus on Korean War veterans and then those who served in Vietnam.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.utsandiego.com