Diplomatic Courier Honored With U.S. Department of State Award for Heroism

Press Statement
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Washington, DC
February 17, 2009

Diplomatic Courier Displayed Valor Under Life Threatening Circumstances

Tomas A. Perez, a native of Austin, TX, and a Diplomatic Courier for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, has been named a recipient of the Department’s “Award for Heroism.”

Diplomatic Courier Perez, 35, was honored for outstanding performance under unusually difficult and dangerous circumstances. The awards ceremony was held on February 17, 2009, at Diplomatic Security Bureau headquarters in Virginia. Diplomatic Security’s Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, presented Perez with a medal set and a certificate signed by the Secretary of State.

Perez routinely accompanies diplomatic pouches to diplomatic posts abroad, ensuring that equipment and materials arrive securely in support of the U.S. Department of State’s mission. However, on May 25, 2008, Perez went above and beyond the call of duty when, following an airline crash, he ensured that the diplomatic cargo he was protecting, as well as other passengers aboard the plane, were safe.

That morning, Perez was strapped into the jump seat aboard an American Kalitta 747-200 cargo aircraft, ready for takeoff from the Brussels airport. As the aircraft sped down the runway, Perez heard a loud noise. At that point the pilot aborted lift-off and tried to bring the aircraft to a safe stop. But as the landing gear failed, the airplane skidded the length of the runway and plunged into a field, causing the fuselage to break apart. The aircraft’s nose section, which included the cockpit with four crew members and Perez, broke off from the rest of the plane and dropped to the ground, stopping just twenty-six feet from high power lines and railroad tracks.

Despite sustaining minor injuries, Perez jumped into action, trying to help his fellow passengers. After several attempts to open two jammed doors, and as the cockpit filled with the smell of toxic jet fuel, Perez was able to locate and open a hatch so he and the crew could escape. Perez led the hesitant crew to safety, teaching them how to use body friction against the side of the slide to slow their steep descent.

Once the crew was safely on the ground, Perez quickly alerted authorities at the U.S. Department of State of the accident and his need for support. Mindful of his training as a Diplomatic Courier, Perez refused medical treatments so that he could maintain round-the-clock visual surveillance of the three containers full of diplomatic pouches – an amount big enough to fill an 18-wheeler cargo truck. Crews from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels and the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt flew in to take shifts guarding the cargo continuously for eight days while HAZMAT personnel cleared the leaking jet fuel and investigators combed the crash site.

In presenting the award, Ambassador Boswell stated “Andy Perez is a real hero in the classical sense: he protected other people; he upheld his duty by protecting diplomatic cargo; he performed above and beyond the call of duty, in the finest spirit of selflessness and devotion to a greater cause.”

Perez is the son of Margaret Fitch and Edward Perez of Austin, Texas. He is a 1991 graduate of the AmericanInternationalSchool in Salzburg, Austria. Additionally, Perez studied International Economics and Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 1997.

In 2005, Perez became a Diplomatic Courier and initially worked in WashingtonD.C. Currently he works in Germany’s Frankfurt Regional Diplomatic Courier Division.

This is not the first time the U.S. Department of State has honored Perez. In 2007 Perez received the Meritorious Honor Award for outstanding efforts in office modernization and dedication to the mission of the U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the U.S. Department of State’s law enforcement and security arm. The special agents, engineers, and security professionals of the Bureau are responsible for the security of 285 U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. In the United States, Diplomatic Security personnel investigate passport and visa fraud, conduct personnel security investigations, and protect the Secretary of State and high-ranking foreign dignitaries and officials visiting the United States. More information about the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security may be obtained at 2009-2017.state.gov/m/ds.

Contact: Sarah Rosetti