LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When his plane was ordered to land in Nebraska on Sept. 11, 2001, Emilio Martinez was stranded.
He was halfway home on a plane full of people who were flying from Ohio to Denver when the orders came down. The skies were locked down, and his flight landed in Omaha.
But instead of waiting it out, Martinez found a way to help others through the predicament.
Now, 20 years later, his daughter — Mix 94.1’s and Las Vegas Now’s, Mercedes Martinez — is telling his story.
“My dad knew something was wrong, so as soon as he got cell service, he called one of the rental car companies and asked to rent the biggest van they had. At this point, they were still in the air,” she said.
“When he deplaned and heard what was happening, he made his way to either Avis or Hertz (we aren’t sure which one he called), got the van, parked, and went back to the terminal. He found a cardboard box by a trashcan and asked to borrow a sharpie from a ticket agent. He made a sign out of the box that said “GOING TO DENVER” on it,” Mercedes said.
She told the story in the 6 a.m. broadcast of Good Day Las Vegas on KLAS-TV, Channel 8, on Friday morning. Mercedes opened her heart and recounted his actions on a segment usually devoted to trending stories on social media.
“People started approaching him, asking if he was going that way. He said yes, he rented a van and he would be able to take seven people with him. Word started to get around. He found seven strangers, all scared (so was he), that just wanted to get home to their families,” she said.
“The eight of them hopped in, and my dad drove them from Omaha to Denver.”
And that was only the beginning.
“When they got to the metro area, he drove every single person to their home. If you know the Denver area, it’s big. There are many suburbs in the area. But each one got front door service. They all offered to pay him for the cost of the van. He wouldn’t accept it. They offered him gas money. He didn’t take it. To him, seeing those people make it to their families when the country was being attacked was the only thing that mattered to him,” she said.
“Many of those people kept in touch with him for several years after 9/11. It warmed his heart. We were so proud of him. We still are,” she said.
And now, Mercedes is thinking about the people her father helped two decades ago.
“My dad died from brain cancer on July 24, 2016. I often wonder if those people still remember him. I wonder if on the 20th anniversary of that day, will they think of him for a split second when they reflect on where they were?”
She posted the entire story in a Twitter thread late Thursday. One of the tweets that includes a photo of her father has more than 24,000 likes so far today.
“I know social media is powerful and I’m really hoping this tweet finds those people. I’d love to hear about that drive. His name is Emilio. And I know there were so many heroes that day. I am grateful for each and every one. My dad has and always will be my hero And I do believe my dad was a hero to 7 people that needed to get to their families in Denver on September 11th, 2001.”