First Posted: 4/13/2013
PITTSTON TWP. — Moments after climbing out of a four-passenger Piper Warrior airplane at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport Saturday, 5-year-old Deja Leigh Smith excitedly described the flight.
“I saw lots of stuff, like hills. I saw the river and I saw Grandma’s office,” she said.
Deja and her grandmother, Susan Duckworth, 52, of Waverly, were among the roughly 1,000 people who attended the 8th annual Aviation Exploration Day on the grounds of Saker Aviation, adjacent to the airport.
“They wanted me to steer, and I steered really far,” said Deja, clenching her hands around a fictitious steering wheel and making a hard right turn. “Grandma was really nervous.”
The event was sponsored by Marywood University’s Aviation Club, Tech Aviation, Saker Aviation and the airport. Attendees had the chance to get up close and sit in the cockpit of some of the many planes on display.
A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Angel Flight East, a chapter of the national, nonprofit Angel Flight America that transports very ill patients to medical treatment centers for free. “That’s one of the reasons that pulled me into (Marywood),” said John Rempe, a junior majoring in aviation management at the university. Brendan LaFrance, a senior at Marywood and president of the school’s Aviation Club, added that last year’s event brought in more than $1,600 for Angel Flight.
Kristinia Luke, a 2011 Marywood graduate, serves as the mission coordinator for Angel Flight East. There are more than 400 volunteer pilots throughout 15 states who are on the organization’s registry, Luke said. Angel Flight East’s boundaries are from Maine to North Carolina and to western Ohio. If a patient has to travel to a treatment center past the boundaries, Luke coordinates the mission with volunteer pilots in other chapters.
“My job is to find the right pilot, the right airport with the right aircraft,” Luke said. Angel Flight missions are not for emergency situations. Most of the patients transported need treatment for cancer, but many are seeking treatment for genetic disorders and transplants. They also have to be cleared by their doctors before they can board an Angel Flight plane.
Luke recalled how Angel Flight recently saved a Lancaster man’s life. When the man needed to participate in a clinical trial at Dana Farber Hospital in Boston, Angel Flight was there to help. Volunteer pilots flew the father of three more than 60 times from his home to Boston for the treatment. As a result of participating in the clinical trial, the man became strong enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant last May.
“He’s doing fantastic,” she said.