In January, two former Nelson residents will take off from Kelowna Airport on a 32,000-km odyssey that will circumnavigate Central and South America. They’ll be flying in a high performance homebuilt aircraft, raising money for Hope Air, a Canadian charity that provides more than 1,000 free medical flights per month to healthcare far from home for financially-disadvantaged Canadians.
Dave McElroy, who left Nelson 50 years ago, is commander of the two-ship formation. His father Art was proprietor of McElroy Motors, which operated in the current Nelson Chrysler premises on Baker Street.
The other adventurer, Bob Vance, now of Victoria, departed Nelson a few years earlier. He’s the son of Vern Vance, the General Manager of Kootenay Forest Products during the 1950s and 1960s.
They will be joined by two other aviators, Russ Airey and Harold Fast, for the 60-day expedition. They’ve dubbed the flight Give Hope Wings.
“Being aviators, we had a natural affinity for Hope Air’s mission,” says McElroy.”
He says Hope Air has provided more than 11,500 flights for Canadians in the past year and demand is growing by 15 per cent each year.
“Hope Air is the most effective and cost-efficient charity we’d ever seen,” McElroy said. “Only 12 cents of every dollar raised goes to administration. And they do all this with only nine full time employees, plus dozens of volunteers.”
He said he hopes the flight will raise both money and awareness for Hope Air, and provide a stimulating flying experience.
So the pair divided the 20,000 mile itinerary into eight segments and advertised for philanthropists to occupy the right seat of McElroy’s aircraft for each segment.
Vance was the first to sign up.
“He quickly committed a large donation to join the crew, and wholeheartedly plunged into the fundraising mission. He’s raised tens of thousands of dollars in addition to his own, and he’s truly our fourth crew member in every sense of the term.”
Vance, at age 81, says he’s had an adventurous life, and this trip will be his chance to “give back.”
So far the crew has raised just over $400,000 in total donations.
“We need to push that well above our $500,000 target in order to fund more than 2,000 medical flights,” said McElroy.
“That’s our commitment and we are determined to exceed it.”
Donations and comments can be made at www.givehopewings.ca. There are just two volunteer flight crew segments still available. Anyone interested in joining can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The flight’s track will be broadcast live on Hope Air’s website during January and February.