'The most rewarding thing I've ever done'
Angel Flight pilot Colton Coile keeps a flexible schedule to accommodate emergency flights
Colton Coile has been a pilot for 20 years.
His father was a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in World War II and flying is something Coile always wanted to do. Currently, he flies an A-36 Beechcraft Bonanza.
He flies for business, for pleasure and as a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight Southeast, a nonprofit organization that provides free transportation to fulfill medical and humanitarian needs.
Coile is married and has three children and two grandchildren. He is an insurance agent, specializing in worker's compensation. His schedule is unpredictable, so it's difficult for him to commit to Angel Flight missions weeks in advance as many pilots do. Instead, he flies many of the unexpected missions that need a pilot who can travel on short notice.
"I can't always say yes, but I fly as often as I can."
Coile and his family learned the value of Angel Flight firsthand when his granddaughter, Brooklyn, was born with a heart defect and needed surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He and his family live in Fairhope, making it necessary to travel back and forth to Georgia. Coile and other Angel Flight pilots helped the family travel between the two states during that difficult time.
Since it was founded 20 years ago, Angel Flight Southeast has grown tremendously along with the need for its services. The organization now includes more than 1,500 volunteers on the ground and in the air. Angel Flight Southeast is a member of the national volunteer pilot network Angel Flight America and coordinates all missions that originate in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Angel Flight transports medically stable patients who need treatment not locally available, offers pre-arranged "red eye" flights for transplant recipients and supports many clinical trials through free patient transport. The group also works with organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Shriners, offers disaster relief when needed and flies antivenin into rural areas for the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Antivenin Bank.
One of Coile's most memorable missions was flying an infant home on Christmas Eve. The baby had been born prematurely in Pensacola while her mother was attending a family funeral. After several months in the hospital, she and her mother were finally ready to go home to Cincinnati - just in time for Christmas if they had a way to get there. Angel Flight came to the rescue when Coile agreed to fly the baby and her mother home on Christmas Eve.
When asked why he would make such sacrifices, he replied, "It's something I can do that not everyone can do. Most people can give back in some manner. That's a way I can do it and I'm pleased and honored to be able to do it."
Last fall, the resources and volunteers of the local Angel Flight were stretched to their limits and beyond. In the aftermath of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, Angel Flight was called upon to transport supplies, personnel and victims into and out of the storm-ravaged areas.
Volunteer Angel Flight pilots, including Coile and many others, flew more than 600 flights in the first two weeks of October - almost three times the normal average for four full weeks of flying. In one two-day period, Angel Flight pilots delivered 15,000 pounds of supplies to help relief efforts.
Coile remembers one flight in particular because his passengers were so different than those he usually transported. Medical patients, while grateful for the assistance and in need of the treatment they are seeking, aren't excited about their destination, but when Coile flew a group of veterinarians and veterinary assistants, they were very excited. They were part of a six-plane mission to carry 25 volunteers to an animal triage area.
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