Angel Flight celebrate huge milestone

264482_07 Carmel Martin with her car that she uses to complete her patient transfers for Angel Flight Australia.

By Marcus Uhe

Imagine living in a rural area and needing to travel to and from a major city to receive medical treatment.

On top of the initial stress of the medical procedure, patients face the additional hurdle of finding and paying for a flight that they’d rather not have to take, and then organising transportation between the airport and the hospital, which can be a costly taxi or rideshare fee, or a complex mission on public transport, should their condition allow for it.

That’s where Angel Flight Australia step in.

Angel Flight Australia is a volunteer organisation that has been providing transport for patients since 2003.

They coordinate non-emergency flights for patients living in country areas managing the daunting trio of bad health, poor finances and daunting distance.

Flight requests can only be authorised by a medical professional subject to the patient meeting eligibility criteria.

Flights are conducted by more than 3000 registered volunteer pilots in their own aircraft, with up to 20 flights provided per day.

In November last year they reached a remarkable milestone of 20 million kilometres of flying – that’s the equivalent of roughly 52 trips from earth to the moon, according to data from NASA, or 5000 trips across the width of Australia.

Following their flight, they are transferred to their chosen medical facility by a ‘ground angel’ in the driver’s personal vehicle.

Noble Park’s Carmel Martin has been volunteering as a ground angel for the last 12 years, driving patients from Essendon or Moorabbin airport, to the hospital and back in her Ford Territory.

“I first started driving a couple who were both over 85 who lived in Mallacoota and the husband had cancer,” Ms Martin said.

“I drove them for three years until he passed away. It got me in and I thought ‘this is amazing.’”

The 74-year-old has assisted on 143 trips to date and absolutely loves what she does, providing a familiar face and friendly ear for patients of all demographics and ailments to chat to.

“When they get in the car, they want to share their story and talk to somebody different,” Ms Martin said. “I think the most important thing is, you just listen to it.”

Before Covid-19 she was providing one trip a fortnight, but since the pandemic it has reduced to something closer to once a month.

Martin, who “loves driving”, takes particular delight in servicing regular or repeat patients, building a rapport and watching their journey to recovery.

“There was a young girl with Leukaemia who I drove for four years off and on. You just build such a bond with them.

“When they come out of hospital with good news it’s so rewarding to hear their story.”

Martin has been a long term volunteer, having previously given her time to The Ronald McDonald House Monash and the Leukaemia foundation whilst raising three children along the way.

“I do it for the love of it.

“If you want to do it, you just do it.”

“It’s beautiful. I get in contact with [the patients] when they leave to say I hope they get home, and we often get a beautiful response.

“They say that they wouldn’t know what to do without Angel Flights.”

To Martin’s surprise, time-after-time she is told by patients they were unaware of the service.

Angel Flight do not budget for fundraising and does not engage in commercial fundraising or marketing agencies to fundraise on their behalf.

The charity is financed through private donations from individuals, clubs, companies and deceased estates, with 85 per cent of donations spent on coordination and delivery of their service.

Angel Flight Australia is an initative of businessman and pilot Bill Bristow AM, who was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for Service to rural and remote communities through establishing Angel Flight Australia.

For more information on the charity, head to