Plane carrying Marine's body forced to land in Charlotte
By Larry Clark | Hickory Daily Record
The flight bringing Gunnery Sgt. Chris Eckard home Tuesday was forced to divert to Charlotte.
Poor visibility and icy runways from the winter storm sent the airplane to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Eckard, 30, was killed last month in Afghanistan. He was on his first mission there after serving four tours of duty in Iraq.
At Hickory Municipal Airport, a Marine Corps honor guard formed on the tarmac in the blowing snow to receive the body of their comrade.
Nearby, 30 members of the Patriot Guard Riders waited with U.S. flags waving. They were there to escort Eckard's body to Drum Funeral Home.
The Patriot Guard is a national organization that honors the sacrifices of military personnel with a motorcade salute.
David Cantara drove all the way from High Point. Because of the snow, he brought his truck. Most Patriots ride motorcycles.
"I joined the Patriots last year," Cantara said, "and I've done 50 missions so far. We had two last week and three this week.
"We do this out of respect and honor. Our soldiers deserve it."
Cantara said many Patriots are veterans.
"It's always hard," he said of escorting a soldier killed in action, "but it's the right thing to do."
The Patriots also honor deceased law officers and any Armed Forces member â?? active or veteran.
They formed a cordon at Hickory Airport in silence.
The plane was scheduled to land at 4:30 p.m. Hickory police officers and Catawba County deputies were to manage traffic and accompany the motorcade to the funeral home.
However, when the flight was about 15 minutes out of Charlotte, deteriorating weather conditions dictated an early landing.
Eckard's body will be driven from Charlotte to Hickory.
The Patriot Guard stood down. The Marines got ready to go Charlotte.
The Patriots left as they arrived, in a line of cars and trucks, flags flying. Two members rode motorcycles.
A man and woman, bundled against the cold and snow, stood at the edge of Franz Stadium, displaying Old Glory and waving as the procession moved down the hill from the airport.
The Patriots were headed to the funeral home where they left unneeded vehicles.
Bill Cook of Sherrills Ford, the ride captain, was disappointed the group couldn't meet Eckard's flight.
"There's no way we can make it to Charlotte," he said.
"But we're not done. We'll be here Friday."
A service of remembrance for Eckard is Friday.
The Patriot Guard will be in the procession to Woodlawn Memorial Gardens where Eckard will be buried with full military honors.