April 6, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Illinois legislators have declared a day of appreciation to recognize an organization of volunteer pilots who fly to serve those in need of medical or humanitarian transportation.
The Illinois House of Representatives has designated April 21 LifeLine Pilots Appreciation Day. A presentation ceremony will be held April 16 at the LifeLine Pilots base at Peoria International Airport.
Nonprofit organization LifeLine Inc. was founded in 1981 “to facilitate free air transportation through volunteer pilots for financially distressed passengers with medical and humanitarian needs,” and has conducted operations in 41 states, including delivering supplies to tornado-devastated Joplin, Mo., in 2011.
The organization recently marked the milestone of completing its 700th mission while logging more than 1,700,000 nautical miles of service flights, said a LifeLine Pilots news release.
“It is gratifying that recognition is being given to the hundreds of pilots and supporters who have reached out to help those in need,” said founder Wanda Whitsitt in a statement. “The seed which was planted 30 years ago has been nurtured and developed by many compassionate and generous people who have chosen to volunteer their own skills and resources to help others.”
In Lifeline’s first year, the organization recruited 40 pilots and flew four missions. “Today, we have nearly 600 pilots and complete, on average, a flight per day,” Whitsitt said.
Lifeline Pilots Executive Director Karen Halverson has participated in missions, experiencing firsthand “the impact of a volunteer pilot’s donation of their personally owned aircraft and fuel. Their generosity provides the opportunity to improve lives of others by removing transportation barriers,” she said.
Board Chairman Michael Peifer emphasized the importance of the service volunteer pilots provide in a time when specialized medical treatment requires the many physical and financial challenges of travel for patients.
“The future success of our mission depends on the continued recruitment of volunteer pilots and the private funding necessary for operations,” he said. “This resolution and recognition brings much needed awareness of our services to the patients and their families who need us most.”
The ceremony presenting the resolution honoring LifeLine Pilots will be held April 16 at 10 a.m.at Peoria International Airport’s Byerly Aviation, with chief sponsor Rep. Jehan Gordon making the presentation accompanied by fellow sponsor Rep. Naomi D. Jakobsson.
Pilot Skip Gibbs regularly uses his Bonanza A36 to bring medical volunteers and supplies to remote areas of Mexico. Just before sunset, Gibbs was flying to the historic city of El Fuerte in the state of Sinaloa where LIGA International Flying Doctors of Mercy has been doing good works since 1934.
The GACE Flying Club, which grew from a club for Grumman employees, prides itself on offering members low-cost, safe flying and social events.
Crosswinds Aviation partners with Michigan’s Howell High School and the Young Eagles to create a GA education program.