ON the same evening Yarrawonga volunteer pilot Don Kernot took to the air to fly a teenage girl home from Melbourne after medical treatment, members of the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Rotary Club had decided to pay the pilot’s insurance costs to help him continue flying for Angel Flight.
Mr Kernot, 69, died when his Piper Cherokee 180 crashed in a paddock at Wallup, near Horsham in western Victoria at about 6.30pm on Monday.
His young passenger, Jacinda Twigg, 15, of Nhill was also killed.
Her mother Julie-Ann, 43, remains in a critical condition in Royal Melbourne Hospital after suffering head, chest and rib injuries in the crash.
Doc Keenan, a member of the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Rotary Club, said Mr Kernot had spoken to club members only a week before, describing how he had become involved with Angel Flight earlier this year after more than 40 years as a private pilot.
“He told us it would cost him between $400 and $500 a month and all he got back was the fuel for his aeroplane,” Mr Keenan said.
“He never came to us asking for money but after we heard him, the members said ‘we’ve got to help this bloke’.
“Last night we decided we would provide $1500 for him to pay his insurance costs, probably only an hour before he would have died.”
Mr Keenan described Mr Kernot, a pensioner and widower who had retired to Yarrawonga only last year, as “a really nice fellow” whom the club was keen to help.
“When he spoke to us the week before, he broke down telling us about some of the kids he had flown, he had tears in his eyes,” Mr Keenan said.
“It is a hell of a loss and we are all saddened by it.”
On Monday morning, Kyi Brooks, 13, of Howlong, had taken his first ever Angel Flight with Mr Kernot, headed to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital for treatment for cancer in the muscle under his eye.
Yesterday, his father James Curran said both Kyi and his mother Jennifer Curran had told him “what a great bloke” Mr Kernot was and how he had calmed their nerves during the trip to Melbourne by pointing out all the landmarks.
“Since finding out today, they’re a bit shaken up; my wife is a bit teary and has broken down a couple of times,” Mr Curran said.
Angel Flight operations manager, Terry McGowan, said the flight from Melbourne to Nhill would have been Mr Kernot’s 20th flight with Angel Flight since he began volunteering with the organisation in February.
“He had 870 pilot-in-command hours when our normal requirement is 250 hours,” Mr McGowan said.
“He was one of our most experienced pilots.”
Mr McGowan said Angel Flight was attempting to make contact with members of Mr Kernot’s family but understood they were headed to the crash site yesterday.
“Our volunteers give up their time and money to make sure fellow Australians get access to the treatment they need,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Kernot told the Yarrawonga Chronicle he had bought his Piper Cherokee 180 aircraft after deciding his Cessna 150 was neither big enough nor fast enough to fly for Angel Flight.