WATCH: Medical transport service celebrates historic first flight

Angel Flight East Kootenay takes to the skies with first patient flight to Kelowna

A volunteer airborne medivac service has taken off with its inaugural flight out of Cranbrook, taking an Elk Valley-based patient to the Okanagan for a specialist oncology appointment.

Angel Flight East Kootenay, a volunteer flight service created by Brent Bidston and Todd Weselake, has been in the planning stages for the last few months, but that all came to fruition on Monday morning. Jewel Shepherd, a local medical patient, took to the skies in a Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche en route to Kelowna for a medical appointment that was only expected to take 30 minutes.

Needless to say, a two-hour round trip flight is much more palatable than a 12-hour round trip on the B.C. highways.

“It means a lot, because this way, I now know that I can fly there and get there on time for my appointments,” she said. “That’s really important for me to be able to go there.”

Shepherd said she has been back and forth to the Lower Mainland for medical appointments fairly frequently since the beginning of the year, her last trip being another checkup in Vancouver.

Bidston, who served as a captain with Korean Air in the A330 fleet as part of a 30-year career as a commercial airline pilot, retired to the Elk Valley over a decade ago. He joined B.C. Ambulance Service for a decade and also started up the Elk Valley Air Search and Rescue Association, a division of the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).

Weselake, his Angel Flight East Kootenay partner, has lived in Fernie for the last 20 years, and is an experienced mountain flyer and aviator.

“We are the third group in Canada to be trying to do this,” said Bidston. “I heard about the idea, so I looked into it, but for the southeast of B.C., East Kootenays and West Kootenays, we have a particular problem now that our patients are much more restricted going into Alberta. We always used to send our patients to Calgary, but they are so rushed and so busy now that they’re accepting very few of our patients, so that’s left all of our residents of this area having to go to Kelowna as the nearest advanced care.”

READ: New flight service an ‘angel’ for medical patients

While Angel Flight East Kootenay is a volunteer partnership that primarily serves cancer patients, it is also available for anyone in need that has to travel to the Okanagan for medical appointments.

“Today is quite a good example where they have to go all the way to Kelowna and back for a 30-minute appointment, but it’s an important appointment and it has to be done,” said Bidston.

The fledgling organization recently accepted a $5,500 donation from Teck and has been accepting corporate and private donations, such as from the Elk Valley Thrift Store Society, to get the service off the ground, with enough to finance roughly seven or eight flights.

“We’re pleased to support Angel Flight East Kootenay and their dedicated volunteers who help to connect Elk Valley residents with important health care services,” said Nic Milligan, Teck’s Manager of Social Responsibility..

Anyone who wishes to donate to Angel Flight East Kootenay, can do so through their website.

Bidston says the organization initially wants to conduct flights out of the Elk Valley Airport and the Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook, but adds that there are pilots in the West Kootenay who have expressed interest in volunteering.

“We’re really hoping that this grows as the demand does,” Bidston said.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Survivor of near-drowning in Elk Valley lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

Cannabis stores in Fernie get green light, open in one month

Two cannabis stores in Fernie could be open for non-medical sales in… Continue reading

Annual Columbia Basin Culture tour coming up Aug 10 and 11

There are locations across the region participating

Structure fire near Elko quickly contained, spreading prevented

A quick response by local firefighters today prevented the spread of a… Continue reading

Stetski talks up NDP election platform

NDP candidate for Kootenay-Columbia riding outlines election ‘commitments’ to Canadian voters

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado

‘Beyond the call’: Teen in police custody gets birthday surprise by B.C. Mountie

Unusual celebration started when Staff Sgt. Paul Vadik went to visit the teen in his Coquitlam cell

Thunderstorms forecast across B.C.

Environment Canada has issued a thunderstorm watch for B.C.’s central Interior

B.C. mom to go to Europe court in hopes of getting alleged abducted daughter back

Tasha Brown alleges her estranged wife abducted their daughter Kaydance Etchells in 2016

Driver who killed B.C. motorcyclist receives absolute discharge

Chase family speechless following decision by BC Review Board

Lower gas prices slow annual inflation rate to Bank of Canada’s 2% bull’s-eye

Prices showed strength in other areas — led by a 17.3 per cent increase in the cost of fresh vegetables

B.C. moves to preserve 54 of its biggest, oldest trees

Fir, cedar, spruce, pine, yew set aside from logging

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Most Read