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Long Angel Flight For Afghan Vet

Saturday, November 20, 2021 12:51 PM | Michelle Judice (Administrator)

by Scott Dyer

In mid-October, I was fortunate to resume my Angel Flights post-pandemic by taking an Afghanistan veteran and her mother to visit the vet’s son in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  This was what we call a “compassion” flight, one principally for family unity for a deserving passenger, rather than for medical treatment.

I’ve been doing Angel Flights since sometime in the mid-1990s when WAA Member Andy Alson asked me to fly right seat with him on a wintertime Angel Flight from Rochester to New Haven.  We had a Baron that evening and Rochester was a true winter wonderland with poor taxiing sightlines due to piles of snow.  But it was a good trip and I was hooked. 

Since that first Rochester trip I’ve done hundreds of these flights in my Cessna 210, and almost every one was very rewarding as a way to use my aviation skills to help people in difficult times.  I’ve flown in 2001 a 9/11 first responder NYC firefighter so he could have a short vacation with his family in Peoria, Illinois where they were temporarily relocated; repeated trips with a little girl and her family so she could be treated in Pittsburgh (she sadly  succumbed, ultimately); a middle of the night trip for another little girl from Farmingdale to Allegheny County Airport so she could receive a liver transplant (landing just behind the aircraft carrying her new organ at 1AM); and many trips with a disabled Marine who was shuttling weekly from NYC to his home in Maine as he went through an HVAC apprentice program on Liberty Tower.

Most of the trips though, have been adults and children going to medical treatments or evaluations around the East, from Toronto and Montreal as far south as Raleigh-Durham.  Many times, the destination or start of the trip is BOS.

This most recent trip started out as a request for staffing to us Angel Flight pilots as a two leg trip, from Fryeburg, Maine to Fayetteville, North Carolina, with a break between flights in the mid-Atlantic.  Two pilots and planes were sought, one for each leg.  Knowing this was a veteran flight, I signed up for both legs so that she wouldn’t have to coordinate with two different pilots and be subject to differing views on weather or mechanical problems. 

My main passenger was in her mid-50s, and she was accompanied by her mother who is caring for her (she suffered brain injury as well as losing a limb in an accident while she was stationed at Ft. Bragg in 2018).  The mother and I coordinated the trip about 10 days in advance, specifically knowing that it always possible it could slip due to weather.

A day before we were going to depart,  a northeast/southwest cold front that I had been watching was scheduled to come across the east coast in mid-afternoon and into the evening on the day of our flight.  Thunderstorms would be popping up across northern New England around the time we’d be departing Maine, and then a squall front followed by the main cold front would harry us on the route to Fayetteville all day.  I decided to push the flight to the next day, when no significant weather was forecast for the route.

And so we flew.  The passenger and her mother were a joy to meet.  The FBO at Fryeburg and a friend of the family were most accommodating in our loading up and we flew the first 3 hour leg, passing directly over JFK, and then over Delaware Bay to Easton, Maryland for refueling.

The Easton FBO was likewise wonderful, quickly refueling and helping us assist our passenger with egress/ingress of the aircraft and use of a golf cart to move her into the FBO.  There must have been 4 people helping us get into the FBO and then on our way.

The last leg was a 2 hour flight to Fayetteville, with the same excellent service from the FBO.  Watching my passenger meet her son, who she hadn’t seen since she was injured a few years ago, and his new wife, I was touched by the joy on all sides.  I had been impressed on the way south by the gentle strength of the family in dealing with my passenger’s injuries and needs; now there was a happy reunion of mother, son and grandmother where only a few short years before there was likely little hope of my passenger’s survival.

Following the late afternoon drop off in Fayetteville, I headed on the short flight to Raleigh for an overnight (and dinner!) before heading home the next day.  The trip home was unexceptional with some unforecast moderate turbulence on final to HPN Runway 34 making me work a bit harder just before landing than at any time on the flight north.

All told, this was “just another” Angel Flight, and in a way it was.  As I pulled into my tiedown back at HPN about 27 hours after leaving the previous day, I felt satisfied and happy at using my skills for a greater good.  What I remembered, too, is that each patient flight is special and this one won’t be soon forgotten.

(Scott Dyer is a WAA Board member, and a CFI/II based at HPN, who flies his Cessna 210 for both Angel Flight NE and Patient Airlift Services.)

Westchester Aviation Association is a non-profit organization.

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