Santa gives reindeer a break, pays visit to P.E.I. hospital in a helicopter

Santa Claus traded in his sleigh for a helicopter and visited the children's ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown on Wednesday morning.

The flight was organized by Santa's Angels, a P.E.I. non-profit group that organizes Santa visits to more than 300 homes every Christmas, as well as the hospital. They bring food, utility baskets of cleaning supplies, and toys for the children.

Santa's Angels partnered with the Canadian Coast Guard to borrow their helicoper and fly Santa to the hospital's rooftop helipad.

Herb MacLaine, a spokesperson for Santa's Angels, said Santa visited everyone at the hospital's cafeteria, as well as the kids who couldn't be home for Christmas. He said the children's reactions were his favourite part of the experience.

"There would be the odd one that would cry and go back to mom, and there would be another one who would come running across the room and pretty near knock you down, couldn't wait to see Santa," he said. 

Martin Caird/Santa's Angels P.E.I. and Sandpiper Studios

MacLaine said it took a lot of preparation to arrange using the coast guard's helicopter, but it was worth it.

"Santa crawled out the side door and started waving at everybody and everybody was quite surprised ... because usually the only thing that lands there is the [medical] flight," he said.

A few hours after stepping off the helicopter, Santa said it was nice to give the reindeer a break.

Martin Caird/Santa's Angels P.E.I. and Sandpiper Studios

He wants all the kids who couldn't spend Christmas at home to know that it's temporary.

"Just hang in there and you'll probably be home in a few days," he said. "It's too bad that you're there, but I know that you're with real good people, with all the staff and all the nurses and the doctors, and they're doing their very best to make you feel better."

MacLaine said the highlight of the morning was when they visited a house where a three-year-old girl was so excited, she was "rocking like she had a pound of chocolates."

"She was just so excited to see Santa and then mom started to cry," MacLaine said.

He said the organization has never done the helicopter ride before, but with some luck, it might become an annual tradition.