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CHESTERFIELD, MO (KPLR) - Wings of Hope takes off for its 158th humanitarian flight Wednesday with a the pilot on his first mission with the local charity.
Bommarito Automotive Skyfox caught the start of the first transatlantic flight for the volunteer pilot and instructor. He left Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield Wednesday morning. He faced an 18-hour journey to the African nation of Tanzania, where the runways would be much different than those at Spirit.
“Unimproved, cut out of the jungle,” Hoerstkamp explained. “One is on the side of a crater, an active volcano. They’re very short. They may have a lot of slope to them, so you’re landing in one direction and taking off in another.”
But, volunteers often airlift the severely sick and injured from remote, developing communities to hospitals so they can avoid tragic stories like one Hoerstkamp remembers of a complicated delivery.
“The lady lost the baby, because they had to drive. The roads are not very good, and it was a bad deal.”
“It’s much less expensive to build a very short, dirt runway in villages around impoverished areas,” explained Wings of Hope president Douglas Clements. “Than it is to build a road system.”
So, $20,000 worth of work went into this plane for bigger tires, more metal on the plan’s exterior and extra fuel tanks.
“Most airports don’t have the fuel the plane requires,” explained operations director Steve Long. “So, the plane has to be able to carry the fuel with it as it flies to the different villages.”
But to Hoerstkamp, these challenges are simply something to be overcome on his way to saving lives.
“I’m honored to be able to do it,” he said.
The plane, which was reassembled after a 1997 crash in the Caribbean Sea, will stay in Tanzania.