Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Quake kids take to the skies

The earthquake damaged Christchurch Central Red Zone. Photo / Geoff Sloan
The earthquake damaged Christchurch Central Red Zone. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Quake-stressed Christchurch school children are being given free scenic flights above their decimated neighbourhoods to help take their minds off everyday worries.

The Salvation Army has enlisted volunteer pilots from Canterbury Aero Club for a holiday programme this week, taking kids from badly-hit eastern suburb schools for free 20-minute flights.

Teachers, parents and psychologists have noticed that the thousands of earthquakes over the last two years have had a profound effect on the city's youngsters.

Five-year-olds starting school have displayed behaviour problems, attributed directly to the shakes, with new entrants lashing out at teachers and other kids, lacking focus, running away from school, not following instructions, and not being able to hold pencils.

The Salvation Army has set up support teams in 16 of the worst affected schools, and organisers say the holiday programme is crucial in giving hard-up kids positive experiences.

"Our response post-earthquake recognised that kids were highly impacted, and with schools being the hubs of communities, they've become a focus for us," said Jocelyn Smith, school support team coordinator.

"These flights are all about giving them a positive memory so when they look back on the earthquakes, yes, they remember the scary stuff, but they also remember all of the cool stuff they got to do too."

Many of the primary school pupils, all aged 5 to 12, had never been on a plane before they boarded their flight yesterday at Canterbury Aero Club's West Melton aerodrome.

Sisters Michelle, 11, and Becky Bennett, 8, had never before left terra firma.

The Woolston Primary pair were awestruck by the experience, quietly taking in the breath-taking scenery of the Canterbury Plains under blue skies.

"It was awesome fun," said Michelle, who especially enjoyed the sight of the split and winding Waimakariri River from above.

They got to wear headsets to talk to pilot Mike Egden during the flight, and Michelle even took hold of the controls.

"I get to take them up and see their faces light up, it's fantastic," Mr Egden said.

The flights, funded by the Salvation Army Earthquake Response Appeal and provided by the aeroclub "at, or below, cost" will continue today.

Unya Roberts, 10, and her 6-year-old brother Caleb Roberts-Yeo also enjoyed the experience, even if the younger sibling's stomach didn't take to the flight as much as he did.

The Salvation Army's quake holiday programmes have entertained more than 1000 children this year. On Thursday and Friday this week a further 120 will be taken to Arion Farm Education Park in Christchurch.


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