Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China

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The New England Patriots, owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft teamed up with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to transport over 1 million N95 protective masks from China to the United States on Thursday.

That's the headline. But there's a whole lot more to the story.

Jonathan Kraft joined 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday to share more details on the elaborate, multi-day process that led to the Patriots commissioning their team plane to bring much-needed supplies back to Massachusetts to aid health care workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Kraft, the plan all started when Baker called him while he was in a virtual meeting with the Massachusetts General Hospital finance committee. (Kraft is a member of the MGH Board of Trustees.)

"The governor said to me, 'I am so ---ing frustrated. ... I have had a couple of big batches of PPE (personal protective equipment), and at the end of the day they just haven't come through,' " Kraft said.

"And (Baker) said, 'We just through a third party secured well over 1 million masks, N95s, in China. But we have no way of getting them here. The supply chains are totally frozen. Do you think people who have airplanes would be willing to fly over?"

That's when Kraft had the idea to use the Patriots' team plane, a wide-body Boeing 767 that's bigger than most commercial jets.

"I said, 'You know what, our team flies around on a 767 ... and we have a huge cargo hold on that," Kraft told Baker.

Fast forward to this week, when the "Air Kraft" was en route to China via an overnight stop in Alaska. But a host of logistics had to be worked out before then, from getting special permission from the FAA to fly a "humanitarian mission" to securing a safe landing zone in China -- to making sure the plane was ready for a such a long flight.

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"First, we had to make sure the plane was equipped with the right software. It needed one upgrade," Kraft said.

Once the plane landed in Shenzen, China, there was another logistical challenge: The plane could only be on the ground for three hours, and no one could leave the plane during that period due to concerns over contracting the virus.

"If we had a maintenance or a tech issue, our maintenance or tech guys couldn't have gotten off the plane to correct it," Kraft said. "Once the pilots left the plane, they would need to be in quarantine for 14 days."

What followed was a three-hour rush to load roughly 1.2 million masks onto the Patriots' team plane that was barely completed in time.

"It was like a NASCAR pit stop," Kraft said. "Fortunately we didn't have any mechanical issues, and we got it done with about three or four minutes to spare and got back in the air for what was a nine-hour flight back (to Alaska)."

That's just a sampling of the details Kraft shared about the incredible trip, which ended successfully Thursday night when the Air Kraft landed at Boston's Logan Airport. (Kraft's full interview is worth a listen.)

But the journey ultimately was a success, and Mass. health care workers are certainly grateful as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to climb.

Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston