Mission 98 - Archerfield to Thargomindah


On the weekend from Saturday 26th to Sunday 27th of June 2004, I flew my fourth Angel Flight mission, Angel Flight mission 98.

This mission was a follow up to Angel Flight mission 37 and Angel Flight mission 44 previously that I flew in December 2003 and January 2004.

The patient in this instance was Mitchell Keene, all of 18 months of age, who was in Brisbane for a 3 week stay for follow up test to the blood flow to the lung. The results of the tests are to be evaluated in due course, and the surgeons' recommendations might include further heart/lung surgery for young Mitchell.

Orthodox method of transportation, travel by car, would have taken Mitchell, his twin brother Alister and their Mum Rebecca about 15 to 16 hours in each direction. By contrast going by light aircraft cuts this down to three or four hours.

Also the folk of Thargomindah have over the last few months been busy raising funds for Angel Flight. So Bill Bristow, founder and chairman of Angel Flight, had intended to fly Rebecca and her sons home on the Saturday, and on the Sunday morning grab the money and promptly disappear with it over the Eastern horizon.

However, business commitments interfered, requiring a substitute pilot. So on Tuesday evening, giving the matter the usual 2 seconds thoughts and consulting with my wife Heather, who would have to cope with a toddler (2 years) and infant (1 month old) on her own during my absence, I happily accepted the challenge.

Travelling as the carer for the second child was Peter Riachi. As he also wears the hat of general manager of Angel Flight, he would be the one accepting the funds and talk to the locals, leaving me to concentrate on the mechanics of getting the plane to and from Thargomindah.


Rebecca, Mitchell, Alister and I were all old hands at this, so very little pre-flight co-ordination needed to be done. Peter Riachi's third hat for this trip was that of Earth Angel, conveying Rebecca, Mitchell and Alister to Archerfield airport.

I preflighted the aircraft (counted the wings, kicked the tires), and stowed the luggage. This consisted of: the twin stroller, 3 suitcases, 2 chairs, a table, a nappy bag, an handbag and a few more items that Rebecca had either brought to Brisbane or acquired during her 3 weeks stay. On top of that came a few items of Peter's and mine and, of course the usual filing cabinet's worth of aviation documents. The only notable absence was that of the kitchen sink.

While I was thus engaged, Peter and Rebecca fielded questions from a reporter from the Courier Mail and posed for pictures for the paper's photographer, as the following Monday marked the start of Angel Flight Week.

Outbound flight

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture At 13:20 local time we finally got under way.

Peter, being a father of three, felt very confident coping with two toddlers at a time and sat in the back, nursing Mitchell and looking after Alister who was sitting in the baby seat next to him.

Rebecca and I occupied the front seats, with nothing much to do but look at the autopilot doing its job.

As can be intimated from the sun streaming into the cabin, the weather conditions were very benign - hardly a cloud about, and the air as smooth as a baby's bottom - no turbulence whatsoever. The only minor annoyance was a 20 knot head wind.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture The boys slept probably two thirds of the way and were quite happy, except for one short interlude when Mitchell, having migrated to the front onto Rebecca's lap, was handed back to Peter on account of his fast fingers - he reprogrammed the GPS in a few seconds flat. Being restored to the Mumma throne and fingers kept under control he was content again to just finger his worry beads (a bead necklace he carries with him to manipulate with his left hand to aid the recovery from his stroke).

After a 3 hour and 58 minute flight, I surprised myself (and the passengers) with a landing where the transition from flight to taxying was barely perceptible.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture We landed just before last light, and began the onerous task of unloading the two and a half tons of freight that Rebecca had shipped. At the same time the plane was being refuelled.

The boys, glad to be back home and looking forward to seeing their dad for the first time in three weeks, were understandably less than enthusiastic to be handed back to the ugly pilot, so that he could have a 'happy snap' taken with his passengers.

The plane was quickly put to bed (tucked under the cover and tied down) and the whole party proceeded to town.

Metropolis Thargomindah

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Peter and I checked into the Oasis Motel, replenished and refreshed ourselves a bit, and about an hour later met up again with Rebecca, her husband Pete and the two boys in the Thargomindah Hotel across the street for dinner.

Here we saw some of the local efforts to raise funds for Angel Flight.

The pub has a weekly raffle with 5% of the proceeds going to Angel Flight. Both Peter and I were relieved of some spare cash to purchase some (losing) tickets.

The complete rules of the raffle are explained at right, while the full notice board with all the playing cards can be seen below

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) pictureWith what turned out to be the first of several 'rigged' results, this raffle was won by Pete Keen, father of Alister and Mitchell. He did put the money toward a worthy cause - $50 of the winnings went straight to Angel Flight as a donation.

Having enjoyed a nice steak with veggies, I retired to bed, leaving Peter as the ambassador for Angel Flight talking to the locals about possible upcoming missions and generally spreading the good word.

Breakfast fundraiser

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Before the sun had even crept over the horizon Rebecca and several helpers, including Peter Riachi, were up and about, preparing the fund-raising breakfast in the local memorial park.

Pictured at right is Peter's dedication to his job; Not only did he stay up late and get up early for Angel Flight, he went far beyond the call of duty by sacrificing blood for the cause. As previously noted, Peter was wearing three hats for this mission, but these did not include a chef's hat: The injury was allegedly sustained whilst slicing onions for breakfast.

Peter - a few words of advice:

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Citing compliance with air crew flight duty limitations and minimum rest periods, I had no qualms to sleep in till much later.

I then completed the flight planning on my laptop computer from the comfort the motel bed before finally proceeding to the Memorial Park, negotiating my way through the busy main drag of the bustling Metropolis of Thargomindah (pop aprox 250).

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture The breakfast was in full swing, with several cooks (unsuccessfully) trying to spoil the broth.

As an all you can eat breakfast for only $7, and delicious as it was, it is a hard act to beat.

The folks of Thargomindah adopt one charity or other every year and raise funds through this breakfast on a Sunday morning. This year they decided on Angel Flight as their charity. By selling lots of sausages, eggs and bacon, as well as arranging for another raffle, they had managed to raise more than $1000 for Angel Flight.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Here Peter is handing Rebecca, as the fund raising coordinator, a certificate of appreciation from Angel Flight.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture The prizes for the raffle were a fruit cake with an Angel Bear as first prize with a few additional Angel Bears as consolation prizes.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture Peter draws the winning ticket, and does a double take as he realises this appears to be the second 'rigged' raffle draw.

The winner is none other than Alister Keene himself!

Rebecca, speaking on Alister's behalf, kindly offered the cake to me as a token of thanks. I gratefully accepted, realising that this was indeed a special cake, and should we be forced to make an unscheduled landing in a paddock somewhere, would provide a week's nourishment for both of us while awaiting rescue.

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture I got to draw the consolation prizes.

Flight back home

Click for hi-res (1.3 MB) picture The flight back home was a bit quicker, due to lesser head winds, and greatly reduced take-off weight (approx 2 tons less in cargo).

Seen here is the instrument panel as we headed back East, taking three and a half hours on the way back. Peter and I were back on the ground at Archerfield some 24 hours after setting off for Thargomindah.

Both Peter and I tremendously enjoyed the opportunity to help Alister, Mitchell and Rebecca, and are grateful for the cordial country hospitality afforded to them in Thargomindah.

Full marks go to all those souls that made contributions to the fundraising efforts.