“He somehow fell in love with rocketry at a very young age.”
“He was a surfer. He loved to ski.”
That is how Chad Keller’s parents, Kathy and Dick, describe him, as a smart kid who one day, dreamed of going into space.
His passion pushed him to get an aerospace engineering degree at the University of Colorado Boulder. Chad went to work for Boeing working on top-secret projects involving spy satellites.
That’s why he was in the nation’s capital on 9/11.
Initially, Kathy and Dick didn’t know their son was onboard American Airlines Flight 77 as he was in Washington D.C. for a meeting with defense department officials.
Chad Keller wasn’t allowed to share many details about his top-secret job--with his young wife or his parents who marked 20 years without their son.
“That weekend he was in Washington at the Pentagon doing top-secret work on something,” Kathy said. “A briefing on the launches,” Dick said.
Chad Keller boarded American Airlines flight 77 bound for Los Angeles when it was hijacked by terrorists.
For Chad Keller to perish on 9/11 along with 63 others in that plane. Four cruel ironies had to take place: First, Chad worked for Boeing and it would be a Boeing-made plane that hijackers used as a weapon.
Second, two of the terrorists who hijacked Chad's flight, trained for their deadly mission in San Diego.
Third, Chad was in Washington for meetings at the Pentagon. It was the Pentagon; the hijackers would end up targeting with Chad aboard.
“We didn't realize at the time, but Boeing had told us later that what they were doing. He was sending up satellites to track terrorists. I mean ironically that's what they were doing,” Kathy said.
“How fragile life is. That is the big shock that poof, in a second, he’s gone. And three thousand other people. That was so unbelievable for all of us. The family doesn’t get any interface with them. They don’t get to say goodbye. Don’t get to say how much you love them. How much you were proud of them,” Dick said.
If the horrific tragedy altered this family’s life, what pulled them through these past two decades has been family, friends and in many ways Chad who served as an example, a guide on how to move forward with positivity, fun, and helping people.
At the University of Colorado Boulder, Chad’s Alma Mater, the Keller’s created a scholarship in their son’s name for aerospace engineering students.
To get the scholarship, students not only have to be gifted but also well-rounded, who like to do fun stuff outside of school as Chad did.
There have been more than 20 student recipients.
“Chad would be so proud of the work they're doing and the advancement of what he did,” Dick said.
His folks say Chad would also love that every September for almost 20 years, more than 50 of his buddies gather in Manhattan Beach to host a fundraising beach volleyball tournament that supplements Chad’s memorial scholarship fund and to toast their friend.
“He probably lived 100 years in 29. I mean he did everything you could possibly do by the time he was 29,” Dick said.
That was except for one thing.
The kid who always loved rockets, couldn’t fulfill his childhood dream to go into space…at least until last year.
When American astronaut Chris Cassidy, a former Navy seal, who once fought against Al Qaeda terrorists after 9/11 heard about Chad’s childhood wish.
The astronaut asked the Keller’s if Chad could make the flight with him to the International Space Station.
There, 227 nautical miles above the earth, in a photo Chad got to realize his dream along with his wife Lisa.