Long Beach Island Pilot Nears 70 Missions for ‘Angel Flights’ CharityFlying Children for Hospital Care Since 2002
For children who need specialized medical procedures but can’t get to a distant hospital, there is Angel Flight.
Andy Anderson, a principal in the Anderson Insurance Agency and the G. Anderson Agency, is a volunteer pilot for the organization and carries precious passengers to facilities such as Shriners Hospitals in Boston.
Nine-year-old Mason Hicks of Gloucester County is one of those whose willpower is inspiring to his adult pilots. One painful look at his scarred skin shows the trauma that the child endured during and after burns that covered 90 percent of his body. Doctors hadn’t expected him to live.
Anderson calls up the online video of the child’s progress as the first way to explain what Angel Flight helps to do.
“It happened when he was 2,” Anderson related. “He and another boy were playing in the basement of his mom’s house and there was a can of gas down there. It got knocked over; fumes got to the heater. The other little boy died; Mason lived.”
Reconstructive surgery for burn patients begins with procedures to restore function, before addressing aesthetic appearances. Mason had to restore basic functions like walking, using the arms and hands, even the ability to turn his head, Anderson learned. The little boy’s personality shines through.
Anderson has flown Mason a dozen times, and also carried other children with equally tragic stories. One would think that such pilots must get very attached to these special passengers.
“You bet,” he answered quietly.
“From Mason’s point of view, he’s doing really good. He’s going through a lot, but he has a great attitude. He has a challenge but is not afraid of tackling it,” his pilot praised.
Mason is one of the few little kids who sit up front in the co-pilot seat of Anderson’s Beechcraft Bonanza; many are shy and stay in the back with a parent. He has talked about being an Angel Flight pilot like Anderson someday, and, who knows?
“He has a flight simulator at home; he can actually fly the plane – with a lot of help,” Anderson said, smiling as he added that, of course the real pilot has the controls.
Since 2002, Anderson, now age 65, has flown about 45 missions for Angel Flight Northeast, covering New Jersey, and about 24 for Angel Flight East, based in Pennsylvania. Previously using an airport in Toms River, he now keeps his plane at Eagle’s Nest Airport in Eagleswood Township, closer to his home in New Gretna.
The pilots absorb all of the expenses for the flight. “That’s our donation to the effort for the individual in need.”
Flying for about five years before he learned of Angel Flight’s 1996 start, Anderson saw an ad in an aviation magazine.
“It called for volunteers to fly people who are in need of medical treatment and can’t otherwise get there, or can’t easily get there. So I responded to that, filled out a bunch of forms and signed up as a pilot.”
One requirement is that the pilot must be instrument-rated – in other words, certified to fly relying on instruments alone, as when visibility is poor in certain weather conditions. Anderson met that qualification.
Some flights are for organ transplant patients when time is critical. Asked whether missions can be undertaken in bad weather, Anderson explained, “It depends on how bad it is. We can fly in inclement weather; that’s what the instrument rating is about. We can fly in rain, some fog. Nobody can fly in thunderstorms or in icing conditions; planes aren’t made to do that.”
Angel Flight services are part of the Air Care Alliance, a national effort to put volunteer pilots and corporations together to transport people in need of medical attention. For many pilots, the call is irresistible. The nonprofit Angel Flight Northeast has more than 1,000 volunteer pilots who have flown 13 million miles, providing more than 62,000 patients and their families free air transportation to medical care.
“I do it because I’m a big believer in giving back,” Anderson said of the humanitarian effort.
A member of the New Gretna Volunteer Fire Company and an active fundraiser for the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean, he has also served as past president of the New Jersey Professional Insurance Agents Association.
But in this realm of giving back, Angel Flight returns gratifying rewards to pilots, in knowing that they are helping these children.
“Right now I’m flying another little girl – her name is Kaylee Twyman. She’s from Virginia and she suffers from a disease called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Stevens-Johnson syndrome attacks the skin just as if you have been burned. It causes blisters, scars. They have arrested her disease, and now they are dealing with the damage done to her body,” Anderson related.
“I also fly a little boy out of Trenton, up to Boston. He is probably 5 years old. He is a burn victim. When he was a very small boy, he was visiting with his father – mom and dad were split up – and he wet the bed.
“His dad put him in the bathtub with scalding hot water. It burned, I think, 85 percent of his body with third-degree burns. His dad was sentenced to six years in jail, and the judge said in the sentencing that if he could have sentenced him to a thousand years, he would have done it.
“Here you have a single mom with a young child – in these cases there is usually only one parent – and the demand on the family to assist the child in their need for medical treatment is so great: the travel, the expense, the inconvenience – it’s a huge undertaking.
“So if pilots like me can do something to ease everything that they have going on in their life, it’s kind of why you do it.”
Asked if people approach Anderson to give him donations for Angel Flight, he answered, “Here’s what I do: At Christmastime I have an open house and I invite a lot of friends and business associates. I ask them, never bring a gift, but if you want to bring a donation to something, make a donation to Angel Flight Northeast, or the local food pantry.”