Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rancho Cucamonga men recount flight to save sister-in-law

Courtesy (Left to right) Ronn Campbell, Ron Campbell and Eric Michalski with the family airplane that has been at Upland’s Cable Airport since 1972 in the same hangar. 

Ronn Campbell and Eric Michalski still gets goose bumps when they recall the day they helped save the life of their sister-in-law.

Campbell, 45, and Michalski, 42, flew Campbell’s family Cessna from Upland’s Cable Airport to San Francisco last month so that the woman — who had been on the waiting list for more than seven years — could have emergency surgery for a kidney transplant. She declined to have her name used for this report.

A lot of things had to fall in place, the Rancho Cucamonga residents said about the Dec. 26 flight.

“It wasn’t until our flight home that we started talking about what we had done and understand how many things went right in this,” Michalski said. “When you fly, you leave everything else behind on the ground. You only worry about your flight. Going in we had a job, which was to get our patient down safely and to the hospital.”

To start, the weather was perfect that late December Friday afternoon. Campbell and Michalski call themselves fair-weather pilots and admit they won’t get on a plane if conditions aren’t right.

Another big plus was being able to fly into San Francisco International Airport — one of the state’s busiest airports.

Michalski said there are general aviation airports near the San Francisco airport but logistically it would have taken too long to land there, call a taxi and then drive to the airport. San Francisco was the closest airport and quickest way to the hospital.

Campbell said he worried they wouldn’t be allowed to land at the San Francisco airport.

There are different types of airspace and SFO is considered Bravo, he said.

“It’s a majorly controlled airspace, very busy,” Campbell explained. “You have to get permission to fly into that airspace. I was a little concerned they weren’t going to give us permission.”

When they were about 15 minutes south of Hollister, the approach control tower called their plane on their radio and asked them their destination.

“I verified that our destination was San Francisco International,” he said. “They came back and asked us one more time. You could hear it in their tone of voice: ‘Why do you want to go to a major airport?’

“So I keyed the mic up and I told them we were transporting a medical transplant patient. You would have thought the skies opened up.”

The control tower immediately changed their plane’s call sign to a medic flight, moved the other airlines around them and gave them priority to land, Michalski said.

They were able to get their sister-in-law to the hospital five hours from the time that she received the call. By early Saturday morning, the doctors had informed them that the surgery was a success.

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