An airborne Bendigo doctor says the best thing about flying locals to Melbourne is the chance to treat sick children to a ride in an aeroplane.
Dr Tony van der Spek is a general practitioner at the Bendigo Medical Centre. For the past seven years he has also volunteered as a pilot for Angel Flight Australia, a non-for-profit that just completed 20,000 flights throughout the country.
The free flights help people struggling financially to get to specialist medical appointments in metropolitan areas.
Currently 326 volunteer pilots donate their time and planes for missions. And they are kept busy. This year alone there have been 131 missions just from country Victoria to Melbourne.
Dr van der Spek said he had transported cancer patients both young and old down to Melbourne, where crews of “ground angels” then provide transport by road to hospital.
“We have children, for instance, who require radiotherapy. And if they live in Mildura and require treatment in Melbourne it could be very difficult for some of them to drive down. Some of them are quite ill,” he said.
Dr van der Spek had also occasionally made urgent flights for family members who otherwise would not make it down in time for appointments or to be with loved ones.
Of all the flights he had done, Dr van der Spek said the highlights all involved children.
“They are the flights we pilots most love doing.The kids love to get in the aeroplane. It is a real treat for them and it is a real treat for us,” he said,
Dr van der Spek said people did not need medical training to become Angel Flight pilots, though they did need to have the right flying qualifications.
“Quite a few guys do it when the fully retire. Obviously they’ve got more time,” he said.
Dr van der Spek started flying in 1977.
“The passion for flying, for me, comes from my father. He flew B-25s during the War,” he said.
And the flying-genes have been passed on through the family.
“My son flies for Qantas,” Mr van der Spek said.