In Tokyo this summer, nine-year-old Valentina Dominguez frantically searched her family’s hotel room for her best friend.
She dug through her luggage looking for Beatrice, an American Girl doll with brown skin and hair, but did not find her. Then, Valentina looked toward her dad, Rudy Dominguez.
“Do you have my doll?” he recalled her asking. He didn’t, he responded.
The family, who’d just arrived from Plano, Tex., for a five-day vacation, searched every suitcase and corner of their room, but to no avail. They tried contacting the airline they’d flown with, Turkish Airlines, but didn’t receive a response until they’d already left Japan. But soon, a Facebook post about Beatrice would connect the Dominguez family with a pilot who later flew the doll thousands of miles to be reunited with Valentina.
“It’s a huge deal,” Valentina said. “I got really lucky.”
Valentina got Beatrice for Christmas from her grandmother four years ago. She took the doll with her anywhere she could, including to restaurants, sleepovers and family vacations.
When the family couldn’t find Beatrice in their hotel room on July 20, Rudy Dominguez suspected the doll had fallen under the seat on their plane and was somewhere at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. But by the time the airline responded on July 29, the family was already back in Texas.
The airline said in an email that it was holding Beatrice at the airport but said it could not send the doll or put any lost-and-found items on other flights, citing security reasons. The family’s options were to have someone they knew in Japan pick up the doll or enlist the help of someone flying there in the future.
“I was feeling very, very sad,” Valentina said. “And I felt like I did something wrong, and I was always going to be ashamed of it until I grew out of it.”
But her parents had not lost hope. They turned their efforts online to reunite their daughter with the doll she adored.
Valentina’s mother, Celeste Dominguez, made a Facebook post on Aug. 2 asking if any friends were flying through Haneda Airport or knew anyone in Tokyo who could “run an errand.”
Through mutual friends, the post made it to a neighbor of Jim Danen, a pilot for American Airlines. The neighbor texted Danen, who lives in Richardson, Tex., just a few miles from the Dominguez family, asking if he ever flew through Haneda Airport.
He answered that he did. In fact, it was a route he flew regularly, and he agreed to help retrieve the doll on his next trip there.
When Danen went to Tokyo the following week, he checked with the airport’s lost and found but was told it did not have a doll, he told The Washington Post.
Puzzled, Danen came back home and wondered what had gone wrong, he said. Then, he took a closer look at the information the Dominguez family had sent him about the doll and their email correspondence when it had gone missing. Danen noticed the family had been communicating with the airline they’d flown, not the airport, he said. He then called the airline, which had its own lost-and-found at the airport, according to Danen.
Turkish Airlines confirmed Beatrice was there, and he picked up the doll on Aug. 16 while on another trip to Tokyo.
“I like completing my mission, I guess,” Danen said.
There was one more step left in that mission: to deliver the doll to Valentina, who thought Beatrice was lost for good.
On Aug. 21, Danen drove the doll to the family’s home. Valentina’s face lit up as he reached into a duty-free bag and pulled out Beatrice.
“I think I brought you something that you left,” Danen told her, according to a WFAA video of the reunion.
He’d also brought Valentina a map that showed the route they’d taken back and gave her a photo of Beatrice positioned beside the plane’s window, reminders of the doll’s journey. Valentina thanked Danen before asking the pilot if Beatrice had been “well-behaved on the flight.”
“Very well-behaved, yes,” Danen answered.
After Beatrice’s long flight and even longer-awaited return home, Valentina decided she would no longer be taking the doll on trips.
“Now that I lost her, I’m kind of being a little more cautious,” she said.
Danen, who has been flying professionally since 1985, including as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve, said that years ago, his son lost a stuffed animal at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. The family never saw the toy raccoon, Rusty, again.
But Valentina and Beatrice had a different ending.
“I was happy to do it,” he said. “To me it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a big thing for her.”