Pilots 'give hope wings' in effort to bring medical flights to remote communities

·3 min read
Some 30 pilots and volunteers flew 15 private aircraft to more than a dozen western Canadian towns in August to raise funds for the medical transport charity Hope Air.  (Hope Air / submitted - image credit)
Some 30 pilots and volunteers flew 15 private aircraft to more than a dozen western Canadian towns in August to raise funds for the medical transport charity Hope Air. (Hope Air / submitted - image credit)

Pilot Dave McElroy touched down in his hometown of Nelson, B.C., Friday morning, ending a marathon two-week tour of more than a dozen towns across Western Canada.

And he wasn't alone.

Starting in Drumheller, Alta., "we made our way to Churchill, and by the time we got there we had 15 aircraft," McElroy said.

The Give Hope Wings campaign was raising money for Hope Air, a Canadian charity providing transport for medical patients in remote communities.

Money was raised through individual and corporate donations, pilot sponsorships, receptions and cookouts in towns and cities visited during the two-week tour.

Some flight enthusiasts donated $25,000 to join the 35 pilots and volunteers on the expedition, which stretched from Boundary Bay, B.C., to Hudson Bay, MB, and back again.

McElroy, who's been flying for 50 years, led a sky caravan of privately owned Cessnas and Pipers on the fundraising tour.

Hope Air / submitted
Hope Air / submitted

"We're lucky in Canada, we've got a great health-care system, but for many people that live in remote locations, access to that great health-care system is the issue," McElroy said.

"If you live in Smithers, and you have a 10-year-old kid with cancer, and you need 10 trips to Children's Hospital in Vancouver, and you don't have a lot of money, you're in serious serious trouble. There's no bus service anymore, a lot of people don't have cars ... and a 12-hour drive from Smithers to Vancouver is the worst thing you'd want for someone ill."

'Hope Air solves the problem of distance and cost'

That scenario is very much a reality for Kelowna, B.C., parent Bristol Gebowski and her 11-year-old son Henry, who has scoliosis and was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019.

Children's charities like Ronald McDonald House provide a home and support during constant treatment in Vancouver, but travel also takes a toll.

"Just the stress, honestly, was the worst part as a single mom, trying to save my energy for his appointments," Gebowski told CBC's Daybreak South.

Hope Air provided flights throughout Henry's treatment, and for the cancer check-ups that continue today.

"I'm grateful it's just a 40-minute fight, and then I have energy for my son."

In 2019, Hope Air provided about 13,000 flights for Canadians in need, both paying for commercial transport and enlisting private pilots to fly patients to treatment.

Over the last year, even with pandemic challenges, the charity managed almost 7,000 flights.

"It's all about aviation. And it's all about helping people. And using aviation to help people," McElroy said.

"[And] whatever we're doing seems to be working, because we're getting close to our original goal of $400,000."

McElroy would love to see this fundraising campaign reach $500,000.

And in 2022, Hope Air has sky-high hopes. McElroy is planning a month-long, coast-to-coast, Vancouver Island to Newfoundland trip, to raise a cool million.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting