A bone returned safe and sound from Ukrainian humanitarian flights

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When the history of the 2022 war between Russia and Ukraine is written, the voluntary service of men like Apalachicola pilot John Bone will be on these pages.

Bone returned safely from Germany to Apalachicola Regional Airport on Saturday, more than two and a half months after becoming the first American pilot to join Ukrainian Air Rescue.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, two German cybersecurity experts, Kay Wolf and Stefan Sachling, set out to send supplies and aid to their colleagues and friends in Ukraine. Given the chaos and bureaucracy of cross-border supply, the pair hatched a plan to fly the cargo in small planes, with their Ukrainian contacts arranging the ground transfer from Poland to Ukraine.

Sachling, a pilot for more than 15 years, and Wolf, an aviation enthusiast, enlisted friends who had planes or had access to them through flying clubs, and the rescue effort sprang to life in just days,

As of August, Ukrainian Air Rescue had 313 volunteer pilots worldwide, either retired airline pilots, such as Bone, or current airline and military pilots, flight instructors, commercial pilots and many private pilots according to visual flight rules. The mix of participating aircraft included everything from French-built Robins to Platus PC 12s, including seven Cirrus aircraft on the roster.

“I heard about Ukrainian Air Rescue through a friend of mine in Kyiv, Ukraine, who had evacuated his home in the heavily bombed Irpin area with his wife, cat and several elderly neighbors After several days in the woods and snow, they joined other refugees and ended up in the Czech Republic, Bone said.

Bone, who among his “retirement” accomplishments twice circumnavigated the globe solo, flew to Germany within weeks via the North Atlantic route to join the effort.

“Once in Germany, I found a well-organized, well-funded and friendly group of general aviation pilots,” he wrote in one of the many articles he wrote about his work. “The mission: to airlift much-needed medical supplies to the Polish-Ukrainian border and return with refugees in need of medical care. »

Between July and August, Bone’s award-winning work included conducting 11 missions to the Ukraine-Poland border, flying 12,061 miles, transporting 4,916 pounds of medical supplies and delivering five wounded from the war on medical care in Germany.

“Returning with the passengers can be a moving experience,” he wrote. “Passengers can be Ukrainian refugees or military personnel, all in need of medical attention. Missing hands, arms and legs are common. Accounts of atrocities committed by Russians are also common.

“New friends are being made and hospital visits might follow to check on them,” Bone wrote. “At the end of the 10-12 o’clock day, you’re exhausted.”

On August 18, Wolf received an email from Stefan Vogelbacher of Evangelische Stadtmission Freiburg eV, a non-governmental organization in Freiburg, Germany, inquiring about the possibility of Ukraine Air Rescue flying cancer patients. for Safer Ukraine, a humanitarian effort to provide safe passage for childhood cancer patients and their families out of Ukraine. The organization, created by St. Jude Global and several international partners, also provides ongoing care for refugee patients.

Vogelbacher, a taxi driver, is something of a legend in Freiburg, sometimes affectionately nicknamed “the potato taxi” because, at the start of the invasion, he loaded a truck with potatoes and drove them to on the border between Ukraine and Poland, where they were then distributed throughout Ukraine.

On August 26, Dr. Alexandra Mueller, Medical Director of Safer Ukraine, during a Zoom call with Wolf to introduce the two organizations, inquired about the possibility of flying a 5-year-old Ukrainian refugee undergoing treatment for cancer for leukemia in Lodz. , Poland.

Taya was assigned to Lodz University Hospital, Pediatric Clinic, Department of Hematology, Oncology and Diabetology in Poland, for her first cycle of chemotherapy. Since the start of the war, more than 300 pediatric hematology and oncology patients have been assigned to Poland and are currently receiving treatment there.

Taya, who is suffering from a relapse of leukemia and needs immunotherapy based on genetically modified T cells, had to be transferred to a hospital that offers this therapy. Due to the treatment she is receiving, her immune system was compromised and she could not travel on a commercial flight, train, bus or other public transportation.

Taya had to be transferred, together with her mother, to the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, for specialist treatment. Wolf forwarded the request to Bone, who arranged to fly to the airport in Lodz, Poland. His Cirrus SR22 flew from Bonn-Hangelar Airport to Lodz, where it landed, refueled, picked up the girl and her mother, and was back in the air within an hour. Flight time from Lodz to Essen is three hours 15 minutes; the flight landed in Essen, Germany at 4 p.m. and by 5 p.m. the daughter and mother were settled into one of the cancer care apartments by 5 p.m.

Bone said a typical mission might have several planes departing from two or three different airports supporting two or three non-governmental organizations, with up to 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of medical supplies.

He said that thanks to donations and the use of volunteer pilots, the cost of goods delivered to the user is also zero. “It’s been so effective that in the two months I volunteered, we quickly moved over 200 Ukrainian army medic backpacks at $1,000 per backpack, all donated or paid for by donations, all delivered to locations along the front at no cost to the military,” Os said. “Try to get the same through the Pentagon.

“Although there are several humanitarian flight organizations around the world, Ukraine Air Rescue is probably the largest group of general aviation pilots ever united for a single cause,” he said. “In the first six months of operation, the group performed more than 70 flights, carrying more than 37,000 pounds of medical supplies (about 18.5 tons), 235 Ukrainian army backpacks and more than 59 passengers. requiring medical attention.

“As the demand for flights increases, so does the network of pilots and aircraft,” Bone said. “Most Ukrainian airports have been destroyed, but Ukrainian pilots are already preparing usable grass runways in anticipation of the end of the war and the opening of airspace. When it opens, there is no doubt that Ukraine Air Rescue will be one of the first planes to deliver aid to Ukraine.


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