It’s always nice to consider the good stories… stories of people who have done nice things for other people at their own cost and expense, just for the purpose of making the planet a better place to live.  This is such a story. Angel Flight is a non-profit organization of volunteer pilots throughout the country that provide air transportation to the sick and indigent for non-emergency charitable or medically related needs. While there are many such volunteers working for this excellent organization, we will tell the story of one volunteer pilot, Kyleen Cane, on one of her Angel Flight missions.

Kyleen Cane, 50, an Angel Flight volunteer and instrument rated pilot in her seventh year flying for the organization, was tasked with getting a young severely ill patient to treatment in Los Angeles.  The weather was fine as they left the tiny Palo Alto Airport late morning that day, but it soon became turbulent as they climbed out and reached the cloud layer to the south of the airport.

Kyleen Cane’s son, also a volunteer that summer as a flight assistant, provided calm to the young patient passenger and his mother who were in the back of the plane.  “This is normal for this time of year. It will clear up quickly when we get above ten thousand feet.” The assurance worked and everyone went back to listening to the music provided through the plane’s XM system.

But the turbulence subsided only for a few minutes after they reached altitude.  At twelve thousand feet and 25 miles from the airport they un-expectantly hit an inversion which dropped them almost immediately two thousand feet and then started pushing the tiny plane upward despite Cane’s attempts to level off.  

Up and up the plane went. 14,000, 15,0000, 16,000

Cane pushed down hard on the control stick and cut all power, but they were still climbing. 18,000, 19,000, 20,000.

The plane’s ceiling was only 25,000 and they had not set up the oxygen so things could get bad if they continued to climb for much longer. Cane radioed ATC explaining the updraft and the emergency.  The controller gave her a suggestion to cut power, but that had already failed. 22,500….

In a burst of panic and inspiration, she pushed the power handle full forward and turned the plane up and to the left, guiding it over and away from the powerful updraft.  The gage read 24,275 feet as she finally levelled the plane and headed away from the site of the inversion. Much more and they could have all passed out and the plane broken up.  

Sweat coming down like rain drops, she turned to see if the passengers were ok, but shockingly they actually seemed unaware.  Her son, however, had sensed the danger and was gripping his seat like a life raft.

“All clear,” she said to assure him but her heart was still pounding as she directed the plane to lower altitudes and back toward Los Angeles.

Flight dangers like these are rare, but can happen, and they are just part of the risks that come with flying in general and the little extra added cost to the volunteer pilots of the Angel Flight team when they pick up passengers in need and get them safely to their destination.

Michele Miller, Flight News and Information Service