Following my last blog concerning the flights in the Aerostar, I continued the flying to the many remote areas of Bolivia. Many of the flights involved moving teachers to the school in the jungle. A total of 10 teachers came from different parts of the world to continue the work of educating the youth of Bolivia. I transported other volunteers and also patients that had recovered in Santa Cruz after receiving medical attention. I also made a flight with David Gates and a telecommunications specialist to repair a TV tower that had been blown down in a wind storm. The tower was put back into service and it’s now broadcasting Adventist programming in the region.
While all this was going on, I received an emergency call to do exactly what mission aviation is primarily here for. I was spending Sabbath at the school in the jungle when I received word that three children had been severely burned and needed to be transported to the children’s hospital in Santa Cruz. I was showing an ER doctor the rounds in Bolivia at the time. We both jumped on the back of a motorcycle and headed into town where the airplane was and quickly made preparations to make the one and one half hour flight to pick up the kids.
The weather was terrible at the destination, but we managed to get in. The ambulances were waiting for us as we pulled off the runway. I told Jesse the doctor to get the kids in the airplane while I ran to the tower to file my flight plan. When I got back to the airplane I got to see for the first time what we were dealing with. One of the little girls was wrapped in bandages with only a small part of her back not burned. It was a terrible sight and one that I will not forget. The other two kids had legs and arms burned but were in a more stable condition. The little girl cried and moaned as she was held in her mother’s arms. All I could do was concentrate on flying the airplane and making it safely to Santa Cruz.
We arrived at the international airport three hours later. We fought headwinds the whole way, arriving after dark. The ambulances where ready as we pulled up to the main gate, making it quite the sight to see the number of people that were waiting for us. The kids were unloaded and placed in ambulances and rushed to the hospital. As the night un-winded and I settled down, it finally hit me. God had used me and his airplane to provide a service for those who had no other way. They were days from any medical care and the severity of the situation made it unlikely that the child would survive. My decision for coming to Bolivia was confirmed! I was needed here and God just proved his point. Even though I was uncomfortable and sad, I was thankful that I could do what I had been called to do.
To see video on the emergency flight, click on the following link:
A few days later after that tragic event, I was to fly to the States with David Gates. We left Bolivia in the evening and made several fuel stops before reaching French Guiana. After spending a night there, we continued on to the island of Martinique. David had some speaking appointments and a baptism, so we ended up staying the weekend. We continued on towards Puerto Rico, Miami, and finally after 27 hours of flight and over 4,000 miles, we reached Collegedale TN. With all that ocean behind us, it was now time to give the airplane some much needed love. After changing the oil on it, I took it to a shop in Atlanta where the autopilot, among other things was serviced. It had failed coming out of Bolivia and would not hold altitude.
We ended up having to hand-fly the airplane the whole way, which made it a whole lot more tiring. We were both thankful for each other.
Twelve days later it was loaded and ready to make the flight south. We would be taking solar panels for the school and hard to get items for the TV station in Santa Cruz. Jeff Sutton and I would make the same trek down with as little delay as possible. We left late Saturday night and made Puerto Rico a little after sun rise. After catching a couple hours of sleep, we continued on to Georgetown Guyana , making it in that evening. This is the English speaking Guyana. We refueled, rode a crazy little bus into town to meet with a pilot that is stationed there and also works with us. After a dinner we road another crazy little bus out to the airport. I say crazy because the driver was driving fast, at night, in the rain with the rap music on loud. It was an experience to say the least!
We were both very tired at this point, so we made the decision to sleep a few hours on some luggage cars that were near the airplane before heading out. We slept a couple more hours until we couldn’t take the mosquitoes anymore. We flew all night and made a stop in Manaus Brazil where the Rio Negro (black river) meets the Amazon River. What an awesome sight as we departed early in the morning! After landing at the school in the late morning, we unloaded 15 solar panels. After re-arranging the airplane, the last part of our leg was before us and we could not wait to be home!
It’s been quite a ride working for the Lord these past two plus months. He took care of me and made it possible for great things to be accomplished. I am thankful for the many people back home that provide financial support to make these flights a reality. It costs a lot of money to fuel and maintain airplanes. Permission to fly for our other aircraft is very close. As I write this, Jeff is doing the final paperwork for it. God is opening doors for the work to continue here, and He has set up a great team. Both DJ Knott and Steve Wilson are excited to be flying again. I can’t wait to fly into some of these hard to reach villages in our smaller airplanes and do more of the Medivac work that is so desperately needed.
God has great plans for Bolivia. This is what’s been happening to date. The hanger construction for the runways behind the TV station is in the works. Plans have been drawn out and water has been piped in. The FBO/Jeff’s House is almost complete, and the grass on the runway has begun to grow with all the rain. The plan is to make Santa Cruz a base for Adventist Medical Aviation; it’s official name. We want to be able to do all of our aircraft maintenance here while keeping the aircraft protected and ready for the Medivac flights with only a short moment’s notice.
Please keep Bolivia in your prayers. There is a lot of work to be done here. We are always in need of more help. If you have any questions on anything, please send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as I’m back from flying! God Bless! firstname.lastname@example.org