The New England Patriots’ customized Boeing 767 jet was used in a trip to China to bring back more than 1 million masks to help control the spread of the coronavirus. Steven Senne/Associated Press

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker found himself in need of an assist to help the state fight the coronavirus pandemic.

He called on the New England Patriots.

The team’s private plane returned to Boston from China on Thursday evening, carrying more than 1 million masks critical to health care providers fighting to control the spread of the virus.

Baker secured the N95 masks from Chinese manufacturers but had no way of getting them to the U.S. He reached out to Patriots team owner Robert Kraft, who loaned the Boeing 767 painted in the team’s colors and logo that is usually used to carry the team to and from NFL games.

Baker confirmed the joint venture in a news conference Thursday.

“The Krafts were terrific,” the governor said. “They were a phone call away and immediately went to work on the logistics associated with this and did not stop until they could make it happen. This was a total team effort on every level.”

Kraft Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Jim Nolan said in an interview on Patriots.com radio that the Chinese government didn’t officially sign off on the trip until March 27. Nolan said the hurdles included legal logistics that were only cleared thanks to cooperation involving multiple state, U.S. and international entities.

Chinese technology company Tencent was a huge help in the process, Nolan said. It agreed to gather the masks, got them through the inspection process, and stayed with them to ensure their security and eventually their movement onto the Patriots’ plane.

“This isn’t in their wheelhouse, but they thought it was the right thing to do,” Nolan said.

There was little margin for error once the airplane arrived in China, which granted the Patriots three hours to fill the plane with the masks. They were on the ground for 2 hours, 57 minutes according to flight tracker data Nolan monitored.

Tencent looked after approximately 1.7 million masks. The Patriots’ plane took on 1.2 million, Nolan said. They are working with Tencent to bring additional equipment back from China via a cargo plane.

The masks will be going into Massachusetts’ stockpile for distribution to medical personnel.

Nolan said 300,000 of the masks will also be going to New York to help medical personnel there. Baker said Rhode Island will also receive some of the masks.

Patriots running back James White said in a conference call Thursday that he wasn’t surprised Kraft stepped up to help.

“As soon as you step into the building, you see how much the Kraft family does helping out not only the Boston community but the community across the world, and it makes you want to help others,” White said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: