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Humanitarian pilot Peter VandenBosch has died

Wings of Mercy founder ‘set the bar high’

Peter VandenBosch, pilot, author, founder of a charitable aviation organization that has flown thousands of patients to medical care, and a 2014 inductee into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, has died. He was 91.

VandenBosch’s organization, Wings of Mercy, has provided more than 8,000 flights to patients in need since 1991. He piloted more than 200 flights himself, according to an obituary posted on the Michigan-based Wings of Mercy’s website.

In 2007, the National Aeronautic Association honored VandenBosch with an Outstanding Achievement in Advancement of Public Benefit Flying award for his volunteer work.

A Michigan native, VandenBosch served in World War II as a radio operator and gunner on B-24 bombers.

According to Wings of Mercy, in 1990 he was retired as the owner of radio stations and other businesses, and living in Florida, when he was inspired to return to Michigan, where he soon found a new purpose in life: flying low-income patients to medical-care destinations far from their homes.

His first mission was to transport two children to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, according to a local news report.  Quickly he came to realize that humanitarian flying was the higher calling his life had been lacking in retirement, he told an interviewer on the occasion of Wing of Mercy’s twentieth anniversary. A speaker at the event was former astronaut Jack Lousma, a native of Grand Rapids.

Wings of Mercy’s growth resulted in a three-chapter structure that carries on the work of the pilots, nurses, and other volunteers from eastern and western Michigan, and Minnesota.

VandenBosch wrote a book about his life's journey, Earth Angels: The Story of Peter VandenBosch and Wings of Mercy. It was published in 2011. The foreword was written by Lousma.

Wings of Mercy reported that VandenBosch had been in good health for many years, but died Oct. 15 after a recent “significant decline” in health.

In the report, Terry Boer, Wings of Mercy’s board president, expressed sadness at the loss of his friend, whose work he described as "something to emulate."

"He didn’t coast to the end of his life. Instead he finished strong and set the bar very high for the rest of us," Boer said.

VandenBosch is survived by his wife, Joan. Arrangements were to be announced by the Yntema Funeral home of Zeeland, Michigan.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.

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