My First Flights with ADSE

Last week, I took my first flights into the jungle with Alas de Socorro del Ecuador. ADSE is a MAF affiliate program, which means that they share many of the same resources, but are governed independently by a national board. Most of the pilots and hangar staff are Ecuadorian, many from indigenous tribes.

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Chad Irwin, one of two U.S. pilots serving with ADSE, was my captain for the day. Our first stop was Toñampade, the Waodani village where Rachel Saint lived and worked. We stopped briefly to drop off a few supplies that couldn’t fit on an earlier flight, then were back in the air.

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Our second stop was San José de Curaray, a Kichwa village further into the jungle. We picked up a young boy and girl, along with their fathers. Both children had bandaged arms that were suspected to be broken, but with no X-ray machine, there was know way to know until they could be taken to a hospital.

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While the injured boy and girl were being loaded into the plane, some of the other village children came out and posed for a photo op. Despite the language barrier, we enjoyed some smiles and laughs.

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After a 30-minute flight, we landed back in Shell, where the children were examined by the doctor and taken by ambulance to the hospital in Puyo.

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A couple days later, I got to tag along on the return flight to take the boy and his father back to San José de Curaray. The boy’s arm turned out not to be broken, and he was eager to get home.

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When we landed, the village children ran out to greet us, and had brought some paper airplanes to fly for us. We shared more laughs, and Chad picked up another patient, a young man with a toothache.

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We flew to Pindoyacu next, another Kichwa village deep in the jungle. A call had come in to pick up a mother and her baby, who was sick with pneumonia. When we arrived, two other mothers also wanted to come with their babies who had bronchitis.

Chad had to do some quick math to figure out if we could all fit in the plane, a Cessna 206 which can hold a maximum of five passengers and 800-900 pounds. We weighed in just barely under capacity, and if the airstrip had been muddy instead of dry, we wouldn’t have been able to take off.

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I am amazed at how skilled these pilots have to be, adapting to constantly changing circumstances and weighing all the factors to ensure a safe and efficient flight. Every minute counts, and lives hang in the balance.

It’s all in a day’s work for ADSE.