Flying start for charity

The founder of a Northland non-emergency air ambulance service has flown his first flight for the charity.

Lance Weller, 64, founder of Angel Flight NZ (AFNZ) flew the service's seventh and eighth mission last week.

His flight involved flying from his base in Whangarei to Kaitaia, where he collected 11-year-old Kauri Potaka and his mother, Sylvia.

They left Kaitaia at 9.30am and landed at Whenuapai Air base in Auckland at 10.25am, where an "Earth Angel" drove the boy and his mother to Middlemore Hospital.

Kauri had an appointment with a surgeon to review his progress after five cleft palate operations. Mr Weller said it would not have been possible for the mother to be back with her six other children the same day without the free Angel Flight.

He said it would have taken them three to four days on the Hospital Shuttle bus, which would have resulted in Kauri missing another three days of school.

Mr Weller said the flight was enjoyed by all. "Kauri hadn't been in a plane before," he said.

"He sat next to next to me. I said 'well, Kauri you can help me fly this thing down there'.

"As an 11-year-old boy, his eyes were everywhere, it was pretty exciting for him."

Mr Weller said coincidentally it was his first landing at Whenuapai. The first time he flew in an aircraft was when he was an 11-year-old in a DC3.

The AFNZ service began when Mr Weller returned to New Zealand after spending 43 years living abroad.

The retired businessman was most recently in Australia where he flew for Angel Flights there. "When I came back over here, I wanted to keep doing it but it didn't exist, so I put the money in and set it up."

Mr Weller estimated he has spent at least $13,000 setting up the charity.

Not wanting to leave his beloved Cirrus SR20G3 plane behind, Mr Waller flew the single-engine plane across the Tasman, stopping at Lord Howe and Norfolk islands on the way.

The day he arrived, January 16 was the day AFNZ was officially established in New Zealand.

AFNZ now has 25 volunteer pilots and aircraft spread throughout the country ranging from the North Shore airfield, Ardmore, Hamilton, Wellington to Nelson and Christchurch.

As support for the charity grows, Mr Weller plans to have planes on hand in Dunedin, Invercargill, New Plymouth and Gisborne.

Also involved in the AFNZ team are 22 Earth Angels and four mission co-ordinators.

AFNZ pilots have flown 1680 nautical miles and Earth Angels have driven 622km.


- Northern Advocate

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