Volunteer angels flying rural Australians in need
PEARCE Bowman descended through the thick smoke haze in his single-engine Ciruss SR22 this morning, an angel coming from the clouds to collect a seriously ill man from the Monto Aerodrome.
Mr Bowman, a retired mining engineer and pilot of more than 40 years, is a volunteer for Angel Flight.
The charity co-ordinates as many as 20 non-emergency flights each day to help country people trying to deal with the triple trouble of bad health, poor finances and daunting distance.
On this airline all flights are free, funded entirely through private donations and made possible by the generosity of a growing network of volunteer pilots.
Over the past three years, Monto's Paul Irvine has made more than 50 trips with Angel Flight.
Mr Irvine is battling an aggressive form of cancer and must travel to see specialists in Brisbane for treatment; sometimes as often as once a fortnight.
During this time he has undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy and nuclear therapy along with a host of clinical trials for experimental drugs.
None of this would have been possible without Angel Flight.
"When you're getting these new trial treatments the doctors like to see you quite frequently,” Mr Irvine said.
"I used to drive down and it would take me two or three days to recover from the trip - it would knock me around that much.
"The flight only takes about one and a half hours.
"There are a lot of people like me who can't make the journey themselves.
"You can't replace a service like that.”
Established in 2003, Angel Flight is an unusual organisation in that it does not have a fundraising department, spending only 15 per cent of its revenue on administrative overheads.
Close to 85 per cent of its funds are spent on the actual co-ordination and delivery of flights, thanks to volunteers who donate their planes, expertise and time.
Mr Irvine's pilot, Mr Bowman, lives on the north side of Brisbane and travels to rural airstrips scattered across outback Queensland to pick up patients in need.
He loves to fly and said the charity work was a win-win for pilots and patients.
"A lot of people need the service and I have the means to provide it,” Mr Bowman said.
"I love to fly and I get to use my pilot's licence for good. We get a great thrill out of helping.
"The alternative for these people is an endlessly long drive.
"The only major out-of-pocket expense is fuel and that's taken care of by Angel Flight.
"The people you meet are great. It's nice to be able to sit and talk with these people, even though many are going through a challenging time.”
Upon landing, a complimentary car service chauffeured by Angel Flight's volunteer drivers is on standby to take the passenger to and from the hospital.
Mr Irvine only has to get himself to the airport in Monto.
For patients like him, the charity truly is a life-changer.
"I can't ask for any more. For a volunteer organisation it's unbelievable,” he said.
"These fellas are just volunteers who own the planes and donate their time.
"They get nothing from the government, they fund it all themselves.
"They have been fantastic. You couldn't ask for a better bunch of blokes.”
To support the organisation so it can continue to provide this irreplaceable service in the bush, donate via their website.