Nicholas Hightower, Manager on Duty, Airport Operations
Nick Wooton, Emergency Planning Supervisor, Airport Operations
In the fast-paced world of Airport Operations, where efficiency and precision are paramount, sometimes extraordinary acts of compassion and heroism unfold unexpectedly. Such was the case when an autistic son ran away from his mother, overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. This is the heartwarming story of Nicholas Hightower, Manager on Duty, Nick Wooton, Emergency Planning Supervisor and the remarkable Airport Operations shift team onsite that day who played essential roles in reuniting a worried mother with her beloved son.
August 24 was a typical day at the Airport, with travelers bustling about and planes landing and taking off. Amid this controlled chaos, a mother and her son found themselves in a challenging situation. The Airport's sensory overload became too much for the son and, in a moment of panic, he bolted away from his mother.
At 1:02 p.m., the Airport Operations Center received a call from a worried mother that was arriving curbside at Terminal B to pick up a family member. When she parked on the curb, her son hopped out of the car and started running. Airport Manager on Duty Nicholas Hightower quickly jumped into action, understanding the urgency of the situation and the need to locate the son swiftly. After gathering information from his distressed mother, he dispatched the Operations personnel available and reached out to a couple of Supervisors that were able to respond. Nick Wooton, Emergency Planning Supervisor, was one of the Supervisors available to support the search team. Nicholas Hightower made his way southbound from the offices on the curb to see if he was able to intercept the son, while Nick Wooton and others made their way northbound. After part of the team and Nicholas made the sweep of Terminal B and calling the mother to update her of each step, she mentioned that it had happened earlier than she thought originally, which made the Operations team realize the search would be Airport-wide due to the amount of time that passed. She also made the team aware of how best to approach her son when they found him, which would not necessarily be visible or obvious just by looking at him.
Nick Wooton, who has volunteer experience in working with people with special needs, had a greater understanding of the situation and knew that his experience was essential for the search of the boy. Realizing the son may be looking for a quiet area and knowing too well SJC’s surroundings, he rushed to the nearby Guadalupe River, scanning the area for any signs of the son. He came on radio at approximately 1:46 p.m., stating that he found a person matching the son’s description walking on the Guadalupe River Trail adjacent to the north side of the Airport.
Nick Wooton very calmly approached the son and kept him busy by talking with him for about 30 minutes. The rest of the team was able to guide the mother to their location, and they remained a respectable distance until the son was ready to reunite. The son hugged Nick Wooton at the end as the mother was reunited with her son and the family was able to make their way home safely.
The mother called Nicholas Hightower when they got home, thanking everyone for their effort.
This story is a testament to the power of teamwork and compassion within the Airport's Operations Team. Nicholas Hightower, Nick Wooton and the remarkable Airport Operations team on shift that day demonstrated extraordinary dedication to their duty and a deep sense of empathy for their fellow travelers. They went above and beyond their regular roles to ensure the safety and well-being of a distressed family, ready to make a difference, even in the most challenging circumstances. With acts of kindness like this one, there is no wonder the passengers chose SJC as the Best Mid-Sized Airport for Customer Experience in North America.
Their actions serve as a reminder that compassion knows no bounds and that, sometimes, the most significant victories occur not in the skies but on solid ground, in the hearts of those who care.
The area covered, with son’s departing location and the location where he was found marked