After the cheers and excitement for those arriving home from equatorial Guinea subsided, the usual stillness of the airport returned. A lone figure covered in protective gear silently and diligently collecting post-flight trash for six hours straight was captured on camera. Who is he?
At 3:10 PM on July 29, 2020, Flight VN06 safely landed at Noi Bai Airport, repatriating 219 Vietnamese workers from Equatorial Guinea, of which 129 were confirmed Covid-19 positive. The flight crew and medical staff serving the flight were given a hero’s welcome overflowing with happiness. Amid the celebration, no one noticed a man collecting and removing trash from the aircraft until 11:00 PM. Waste removal is the final step required after every flight and is normally conducted by ten staff members.
The heroic figure was Le The Hiep, a cleaning staff member of the On-Board Service team, Vietnam Airport Ground Services Co., Ltd. (VIAGS), Noi Bai Branch. Cleaning and handling contaminated waste after the flight posed a high risk of Covid-19 infection as the virus was carried by over half of the passengers.
When the images and story of Hiep were shared in the Aviation Forum Facebook group, many left comments such as “Everyone was afraid, but he willingly stepped into the breach;” “He took charge of that A350 aircraft alone;” and “Only one person dared to sign up for the job. He’s the hero of our team.”
“I’m afraid of catching Covid-19, too, especially when thinking about my mother, children and family,” Hiep said. “This shift posed a very high risk. If ten people had been on duty as usual, we would have all faced the same risk of infection. Therefore, one person should sacrifice for others in case things went south. That’s what I thought. So I volunteered on the behalf of my whole team.”
Hiep does not regard his act as special because he strongly believes that his colleagues would think and act in the same way. After the historic VN06 flight, Hiep underwent a 14-day self-isolation and spent his time reading the news. He said that he greatly admires and respects his colleagues, who are making endless efforts for the safety of passengers, and the courageous crew members selflessly flying to affected areas to rescue fellow countrymen. Heroes tend to make silent sacrifices and rarely think of themselves. Le The Hiep is indeed one of them.