A family's dogs, Soju and Winter, died while on an eight-hour military flight to Seattle.
Anne Surette told Insider the family is still looking for answers as to what, exactly, happened.
Since 2017, at least 18 dogs have died on the Air Force-run flights. Soju and Winter are just the latest.
What should have been a fresh start in their new home has turned into one family's ongoing nightmare.
Having just landed in Seattle after flying from South Korea, Anne and Timothy Surette and their son were prepared for the next part of their international move: A cross-country drive to Virginia, where the family and their two dogs would soon be living.
But as they deplaned from the Patriot Express flight — a commercial airliner contracted by the Air Force-operated Air Mobility Command (AMC) — and began gathering their luggage, Anne says they heard their name being called.
An employee told Timothy their dogs, 5-year-old Soju and 11-year-old Winter, did not survive the flight, Anne Surette told Insider. The dogs, a French bulldog and old English bulldog, had died en route.
While a necropsy has not been completed, the Surettes believe they died from heatstroke.
"Nothing will ever be the same for our family after today," Anne wrote in a Facebook post. "Everything has been a nightmare that would not go away, and we must live with it even when we are awake."
In a statement to Insider on Monday, a representative for AMC said they "deeply regret the deaths of these pets."
"While we cannot change the outcome of this unfortunate situation, AMC leadership is analyzing the circumstances of this mission and are committed to doing all they can to reduce negative outcomes while still providing pet transport for our service members," the spokesperson said.
What went wrong
The Surettes were traveling on a Patriot Express flight, an airline contracted by Air Mobility Command. Utilized by military personnel and operated by the US Air Force, AMC is known to transport pets, and the family chose the flight because it was said to be a temperature-controlled.
The AMC spokesperson told Insider the flight was "a mix of military and contracted support," and that after the passengers and pets were boarded, the international charter service personnel took over responsibility.
"It is at this point that AMC personnel were no longer involved in the immediate decision making and preparation of flight, however AMC leadership and teams will continue to work on improving processes for our families and their pets," the spokesperson said.
At first, the trip was without major issues. In a conversation with Insider on Sunday, Anne said that during a layover in Japan they were able to let Soju and Winter out to walk and feed them, but that things went awry after boarding the flight to Seattle.
After boarding around 1 p.m., passengers were notified of a delay, Anne said. Midway through what turned out to be a three-hour delay, a flight attendant said they had checked on the dogs and given them water — but no one was allowed to leave the plane, including the dogs.
By the time they arrived in Seattle after the roughly eight-hour flight, the two dogs had died.
"There was not enough airflow for the flight," Anne said. "For us, in the cabin itself, it was hot. It was really hot."
When the couple found Soju and Winter after the flight, neither dog had their water bottles in their crates. Employees could not find the dogs' water, or explain what happened to the bottles, Anne said, adding that while they've spoken with military officials, they haven't heard from the airline.
"I've been having issues sleeping because every time I close my eyes, I see them," Anne told Insider. "I see them in the crate where we saw them last."
"It's still unreal," she continued. "It's something that we don't want to accept."
It's not the first time a pet has died while on a Patriot Express flight
Last year, three dogs died on the Air Force-operated flight in the span of two weeks, The Military Times reported. At least one died of heatstroke, the outlet reported. Between 2017 and 2022, 16 animals died while under AMC's supervision, according to the Military Times.
The representative for AMC told Insider that since 2022, the company has seen a 60% reduction in pet fatalities.
A pamphlet from AMC's website, last updated in July, warns passengers that all pets are susceptible to "the possibility of death during travel."
Another document on the site says that the most at-risk animals are brachycephalic — otherwise known as snub or pug nosed — breeds. While both French bulldogs and old English bulldogs are brachycephalic, Anne told Insider that neither Soju or Winter had preexisting health issues, and both had passed a health inspection required for them to travel. Winter had previously flown without issue.
Air Mobility Command wrote that approximately 89% of in-flight "pet fatalities" are related to these breeds.
Anne said that she asked employees at the airport for help finding somewhere to cremate her two dogs, but that no one was able to help.
While the Surettes don't plan to sue the company, Anne said they do want more answers, including how hot the plane got, and what standards the staff used to ensure that the dogs were actually OK during the delay.
They also want to see change in policies. The company has said they've changed their policies and procedures to reduce the number of pets that die while onboard. The company spokesperson told Insider that includes keeping pets in climate-controlled terminals before boarding, and loading pets as late in the process as possible.
Still, the family would like to see more concrete action moving forward.
"You have dogs, you have babies on the plane," Anne said. "So what else could have been done? Those are things that they have to have in place."
Read the original article on Insider