When Cruz Escobar noticed the small black bag nestled next to a passenger seat on a Swissair jet she was cleaning at Dulles International Airport, she didn't think much of it. It was probably just a makeup bag that someone forgot.
Escobar grabbed the unassuming bag and unzipped it. She was shocked at what she found: lots and lots of jewelry. Although she didn't know it at the time, that afternoon three weeks ago, she held an estimated $20,000 worth of gold, diamonds and pearls in her hands.
"I felt sorry for the woman who had lost it," said Escobar, speaking in Spanish through a translator.
"I always believed what my mother taught me, that you should never keep something that doesn't belong to you," she added.
Escobar, a cabin cleaner for the Dulles-based aviation services company DynAir, immediately handed the bag over to Swissair officials, never expecting to get more than a "thank you" from airline staff members. After all, she was just doing her job.
She said she never imagined that the passenger who left the bag would be grateful enough to want to thank her in person. But that's exactly what Viki Koutsis, of Fairfax, wanted to do.
At Koutsis's request, the two women met yesterday morning at DynAir's headquarters at a small reception held by Escobar's bosses. Escobar, 60, of Reston, was overwhelmed by all the attention. Her bosses and colleagues surrounded her as she walked into the room.
Koutsis embraced the small woman from El Salvador in thanks for finding the bag. She then handed Escobar a $300 reward. Escobar's boss at DynAir gave her another $100 from the company.
"The jewelry's sentimental value would have been irreplaceable," said Koutsis, 42, who lost the bag on the ride back from a five-week vacation in Greece. "I would have been devastated. I just really felt like this person should be recognized for her honesty."
Through a translator, Koutsis described to Escobar the significance of the individual pieces of jewelry. Gold bangles from her deceased father. Her engagement ring. A Gucci watch her husband gave her on their 20th anniversary. A diamond heart pendant that was a 40th birthday gift.
Dennis Kerns, general manager at DynAir, said that in his 20 years in the airline industry, this is the first time he's seen a passenger go out of her way to thank a worker for recovering a lost possession. And while it's common for cleaners to find books and checkbooks on planes, he said, the bag of jewelry Escobar found was the most valuable item he can remember turning up on a plane at Dulles.
"This makes me very humble and proud," Kerns said. "In this day and age, somebody sees something and often just takes it."
All of DynAir's employees are instructed to turn in to airline authorities any item they find on a plane, Kerns said. The airline then is responsible for tracking down the owner of the item.
Swissair called Koutsis a few hours after she left the airport. At first, she thought she had left her jewelry bag in Greece. But then, panicking, she realized that she must have misplaced it onboard after emptying her purse in search of some Tylenol. Fortunately, finding her was easy--she'd left her driver's license in the bag with the jewelry.
Relieved to know that the bag was in safe hands, she said, she simply wanted to thank Escobar.
"This is how the world should be, but unfortunately times have changed," Koutsis said. "This act makes you believe there's still some humanity in this world."
CAPTION: Viki Koutsis, right, thanks Cruz Escobar, who found a bag containing Koutsis's jewelry while cleaning out a Swissair plane at Dulles International.