Angel Flight pilot Lance Weller flew from Whangarei to Kaitaia once again on Tuesday morning, to collect another Middlemore Hospital patient who, without the Angel Flight service Mr Weller has established, would have faced a long drive to Auckland and back.
Eleven-year-old Kauri Popata had an appointment at Middlemore that day - not his first and certainly not his last - and was due to land back at Kaitaia mid-afternoon. Had the weather closed in, as it was threatening to do, to the point where Mr Weller wasn't prepared to fly back to Kaitaia Kauri and his mum Sylvia would have been placed on that afternoon's Air New Zealand flight home from Auckland.
Kauri, who had never flown before, did not seem entirely convinced that taking the quick way to Auckland was a good idea, but hopped into the front seat of Mr Weller's Cirrus happily enough, followed by his mum and a TVNZ cameraman. (The story of Angel Flight, which has operated in Australia for many years and was transplanted to New Zealand by Mr Weller earlier this year, will be the subject of a segment on TV One's Sunday programme at some point in the future).
The service is provided by private aircraft owners who donate their time, and their planes, to transport hospital patients from remote locations to city hospitals and specialists. 'Earth Angels' collect them when they land and drive to them to their final destination, then return them to the airport for their flight home.
The service does not cater for emergencies, and patients need a medical referral, and clearance to fly, before they will be accepted.