Sometimes It's How We Use Our Airplanes That Really Counts
Following is a story sent to ANN by Florida pilot
Francisco Murillo. It is published in its entirety from
the author's blog with his permission.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
“Francisco, have you ever had cancer?”
The voice came through the intercom and it caught me by
surprise. The question came from 8 year old Aref, who was sitting
in one of the back seats of the plane, next to his mom, Liliana.
Aref’s 10 year old sister, Shaddi, was sitting in the
co-pilot’s seat next to me.
Abdala Family With Author
This was the day before Thanksgiving. Some days before that, I
had received an email from Angel Flight Southeast, an organization
for which I do volunteer work as a pilot. They had several missions
at risk of being canceled and wanted to know if there were
volunteers able to fly them. I don’t usually fly missions on
weekdays due to my job responsibilities, but I decided to work late
the day before so I could clear my schedule for the day of this
particular mission. Having an 8 year old that had just undergone 2
months of radio therapy riding in a car for 6 or 7 hours between
Jacksonville and the Miami area did not look right to me.
The departure out of North Perry Airport in Hollywood, Florida
was done under patches of rain, but quickly turned to clear skies
and beautiful weather. I was on my way to Craig Field in
Jacksonville to pick up my passengers. The leg northbound was
uneventful and by the time I arrived there, the Abdala family was
already waiting for me at the airport lobby.
Aref’s dad, Anuar, had driven the day before from South
Florida to Jacksonville, so that they could vacate the room they
were using at the Ronald McDonald’s house. Because of the
long stay that Aref needed in Jacksonville at the Proton Therapy
Institute, they had a lot more belongings than what would had fit
in a Cirrus, the plane we were using to fly Aref back home for
Aref Prepares For The Flight Home
I knew this was going to be an interesting trip when
Liliana told me that there was a twist to the story. Shaddi had
been told that she was not going to be riding in the plane with
Aref and his mom, but that instead, she had to ride back in the car
with his dad. The fact is that the plan since the beginning called
for Shaddi to ride with us in the plane, but Aref wanted to
surprise her and boy… was she surprised! When she was
told at the last minute that she was flying with Aref and Liliana,
her gorgeous eyes grew wide in disbelief, and she started chasing
Aref around the airport ramp to hug and kiss him.
We took off from Craig Field northbound and the JAX controllers
quickly turned us back southbound. Flights under an IFR flight plan
can get quite busy, even more around areas of heavy air traffic,
like Jacksonville and south Florida, so having a very chatty
co-pilot in Shaddi made it specially challenging. Of course, I
could use the isolate function in my intercom to talk to air
traffic controllers without interruptions from my passengers, but I
used it as little as possible in this trip because I really wanted
to enjoy having these two young kids in my plane.
During the leg southbound I heard about how they enjoyed the
Homestead Air Show, which took place just a couple of weeks ago,
and about how fantastic the Blue Angels are. Having been to that
same show with my family I had to agree with them. They also told
me jokes and kept me entertained for the whole trip.
Before our arrival in South Florida I briefed Liliana and the
kids in advance that we were going to have to descent through a
cloud layer and that they may feel like in a little roller coaster,
but that I was not expecting anything significant. The turbulence
turned out to be not bad at all and all my passengers behaved
beautifully. Once on the ground at North Perry Airport we had the
opportunity to see a Piper Pawnee plane picking up a sign to tow
around the city.
Aref did not complain once during our 1 hour and 40 minute trip
from Jacksonville to the Miami area. Liliana explained to me that
the skin in his lower back is burned due to the radio therapy he
received during the two months he stayed in Jacksonville. I was
impressed with how brave this 8 year old kid is and how much
support he is receiving from his family.
When Aref asked me if I had ever had cancer, I thought it was
because of my shaved-of hair style and that he had assumed that I
had lost my hair during radio therapy, as it had happened to him. I
was wrong: I asked him why he wanted to know and he said that
usually people that have had cancer are the ones that help other
people with cancer. This really left me thinking.
While working on this story a few days after this flight, I went
to pick up my son at school because he was not feeling well. While
waiting for him at the school reception I saw a poster in one of
the boards that reads:
“If you want to be happy for an hour, go watch T.V.
If you want to be happy for a day, go to an amusement park.
If you want to be happy for a lifetime, go out and help
Aref, you may be too young to understand this, but there are
people out there that want to be happy by helping people like