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1000s of volunteer pilots provide free medical transport

Words by Tess Becker

Medical intervention isn’t always available in our backyard. That’s where an organization like Angel Flight West comes into view. 

Angel Flight West is a network of volunteer pilots that fly people around the country for critical care – all for free. The network has more than 2,500 volunteers.

“In a lot of ways, we're like a volunteer matching system for people that need access to health care that couldn't otherwise get it,” Angel Flight West’s executive director Josh Olsen tells Smiley News.

“So in many ways, like Uber arranges for people to get from point A to point B using contract drivers, we're a platform that has patients that need to get from home to hospital, and volunteers that can provide that transportation and we match them up.”

The pilots are usually recreational pilots who fly as a hobby and Angel Flight West gives them something to do with all that flying.

“I sometimes call myself a pilot enabler,” Josh says, “because recreational pilots people that fly for a hobby, they are borderline addicted to flying, any reason they can get up in the air, they like to do it.

"And instead of flying a couple 100 miles to go to an airport restaurant, eat a burger, this provides you an opportunity to do something that you love, and see it impact someone else's life in a real one-to-one tangible way.

“I hear from pilots all the time that they feel like they get way more back than what they're putting in.”

The organization isn’t limited to travel for healthcare though, they, as Josh puts it, “consider all sorts of different compelling human needs.” This includes things like travel to escape a domestic violence situation, transport of blood, organs, and tissue, and even transporting PPE products in the deepest parts of the pandemic.

“We were able to move stuff out there to the Navajo Nation,” Josh says. “They were really hit hard so we were able to bring in supplies and materials and even drinking water in some cases to help them.”

In general, they want to use planes as effectively as they can to help people.

“An airplane is a really unique tool so we try to use it however we can and most of the time that's for healthcare for us,” Josh says. “But some of those other reasons and even things like natural disasters that we can pitch in and help with our volunteers.”

Angel Flight West has been around for 40 years in 2023 and it’s also coming up on its 100,000th flight. The amount of flights they do fluctuates from year to year but on average they do about 5,000 flights a year.

“I've heard so many times from patients saying, ‘yes, the treatment the doctors were amazing but what felt more impactful to my healing journey was that someone went out of their way some stranger to fly me above and beyond and then take me above all my cares and all my worries,’” Josh says.

Angel Flight West is always looking for more volunteers too, even if you’re not a pilot they’re also looking for drivers. In general, the organization just wants to help families and people that need it.

“Some things don't work in the way that we want to but when you talk to the families afterward and how meaningful that was in their time of need, regardless of the situation, we're making a difference and that's really what you want to do,” Josh says.

Find out more about Angel Flight West and support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs