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Whatever Happened To...? The Pig That Flew

Pig and its passenger lie low

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, April 21, 2002

They flew first class out of Phila. All parties just want to forget.

It was the ultimate metaphor for the impossible and then the impossible happened: A pig really did fly! On Oct. 17, 2000, a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig flew on a commercial airliner - first class, no less - from Philadelphia to Seattle. Its owner, who told the Philadelphia Daily News she was moving from South Jersey to the Pacific Northwest, said she had a heart condition so severe that she needed the pig's companionship to relieve stress. Officially, that made the pig, whose weight has been variously reported as anywhere from 150 to 300 pounds, the equivalent of a seeing eye dog.

The media went hog wild with this historic first - and with reports that despite a pink bow in its tail, the pig had acted like a swine on the USAirways flight and afterward in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. When the .. uh .. dust finally settled, Maria Tirotta Andrews swept off with her pig and went to ground in an Everett, Wash., apartment complex. No word of them was heard - until a week ago Friday.

That's when Andrews called this Inquiring reporter, who had been trying pick up her trail, and said she just wanted to be left alone. Yes, Virginia, Andrews is still reported to be living with her ham-hocked companion. And she's still living with her bitter memories of the whole experience.

"The original story was all lies!" said Andrews, who records indicate is about 40. "It caused me so many problems. I can't tell you how much grief it caused me. It was a headache for a long time."

And not just for her. Andrews' mother, who lives in Southern California, also had been on the flight. "My mom, she's 82 years old, she go bombarded with calls. She got very sick."

Andrews wouldn't say where she was calling from. She reportedly moved to the Puget Sound area because it had good doctors and was a center of alternative medicine. But local officials said she no longer lives in the Everett apartment complex. To her chagrin, Andrews said in an interview shortly after her arrival, management wasn't thrilled about her pig, which the media called "Charlotte" but which Andrews said was named "Freedom" and was a "therapeutic companion animal."

A relative thinks Andrews is still in Washington, but that her mother - concerned about their health - is looking for someplace they both can live.

"I'm not going into that," Andrews said the other day. "It doesn't matter where I'm living."

"I'm a person with a disability, with a pig ... We took a flight. It was very nice, everything went well ... Nothing ever happened."

Nothing?

It isn't every day - or any other day, for that matter - that a pig flies as a passenger aboard a commercial airliner.

But by invoking federal travel regulations regarding "service animals", Andrews managed to take a pig on a cross-country flight aboard a Boeing 757.

It was her doctor, she said at the time, who had told her to take the pig because "I'm not a well person. I have heart problems. I have been under the care of cardiologist ... It cost me $10,000 to move for health reason."

But the pig flew free. And acting on what a Federal Aviation Administration investigation ultimately concluded was "a legitimate a request to transport a qualified individual with a disability and her service animal," USAirways put Andrews, her mother and the pig in the roomier first-class section without extra charge.

Other passengers were startled, to say the least. Some reported that the pet made a pest of itself during the flight.

Subsequent investigations indicated that wasn't so. But Andrews acknowledged to the Everett Herald that the pig did lose it and have a accident in the arrival terminal.

"It was like Frank Sinatra got off the plane," Andrews said. "The pig started to scream when strangers were reaching up and grabbing at her."

Things really hit the fan when a Pennsylvania-bound traveler photographed the bizarre scene of Andrews and her mother trying to get the harnessed and leashed pig out of the airport.

"When I took the photograph," Fred Herman later told the Daily News, "one of the ... ladies demanded to know why I was making a snapshot. I told her, 'Lady, I have to. Because if I don't get a picture of your first-class pig, nobody at home will believe my story.' "

Initially, the story was a mystery: Who was that woman with the pig? The Daily News said Andrews came forward only because she needed money and mistakenly believed the newspaper was offering a $10,000 reward for information. Andrews was extremely displeased when told that wasn't so. According to her relative and the Daily News, Andrews isn't shy when it comes to asking for money.

When Andrews was finally convinced there was no money to be had, the Daily News said she went ahead and told her story anyway.

In the post-9/11 era, it might seem impossible that the story could be repeated and that a pig could fly again. But that's not the case.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act, a person with disabilities with a pig properly documented as a "service animal" - and which doesn't trip metal detectors or other post-9/11 alarms - could get on a plane.

"It would be at the call of the airline," said mark Pesce, a spokesman for Philadelphia International Airport.

"We would evaluate the situations on a case-by-case basis," USAirways spokesman David Castelveter said.

Though not impossible, a repeat flight appears improbable.

"This is the only pig I have heard of that has actually gotten to fly as a passenger instead of cargo," said Dottie Eggeman, who owns Pigs4Ever.com, an Internet service for pig owners.

However much noise and news the pig made at the time, it and Andrews haven't made a peep since.

"Nothing about her ever came to City Hall's attention," said Everett, Wash., spokeswoman Dale Proboski.

After checking, Proboski said Andrews apparently had opened a business there called "Forever Young" - a combination beauty salon and natural health emporium. But the business went out of business, said Proboski, who couldn't find any further trace of Andrews.

Perhaps she'll turn up next - when pigs once again fly.

By Marc Schogol
Inquirer Staff Writer

Copyright © 2002
The Philadelphia Inquirer

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