‘Angels’ that take flight

Published 7:34 pm Friday, December 18, 2009

A volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, an organization that provides free air transportation to people in need of medical care, spoke to the Bainbridge Rotary Club Tuesday.

David Howe, from Big Canoe, Ga., is a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight. This non-profit organization serves the community by flying patients to distant medical facilities, delivering supplies to disaster areas and reuniting families during desperate times.

Angel Flight passengers must by ambulatory and medically stable, but that is the only requirement of the patients.

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“Angel Flight is all about people, I’m talking about the passengers and the patients who have the medical conditions that bring them to Angel Flight. They’re both inspiration and amazing in how they deal with life-threatening conditions. And two-thirds of our passengers are children,” Howe said.

Angel Flight pilots, of whom there are 800 in the organization, pay all of the expenses for the missions. The pilots own the aircraft used and provide their time and services to no charge to the passenger. There are 400 non-pilot, or “earth angels,” volunteers who coordinate the missions, perform community outreach and pilot recruitment.

Howe highlighted some of the patients and passengers that he has personally flown to medical facilities throughout the Southeast. Among his favorites are the “helmet babies,” babies that must wear helmets to help cure the flat spots on the backs of their heads from sleeping on their backs, that he has transported to Atlanta to have the helmet adjusted on a weekly basis.

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the attitude and strength of character that these young people show, given the conditions that many of them are facing,” Howe said.

Howe explained that since most of the aircraft are of the single-engine variety and can fly a maximum of 800 miles, some of the missions must be flown in phases to get the patient to the final destination.

In addition to transporting patients to medical facilities, Angel Flight also flies missions during natural disasters.

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast, Angel Flight sent six aircraft to Montgomery, Ala., to pick up supplies and then flew to a small airport in Chatham, Ala.

The supplies were then ground transported to people in need in Mississippi. That trip was repeated three different times to transport the available supplies.

For more information on Angel Flight, please visit www.angelflight-ga.org.