Pilot offers plane to help the needy

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: John Jackson greets a Christmas that he wasn’t sure he’d see“Dave” is Dave Stefko, who has transported everyone from cancer patients to children en route to burn camps. Stefko, 48, a Canyon Country resident whose Cessna is based at Van Nuys Airport, said it’s a way he can use his skills to help others. On one trip, several pilots banded together to fly different legs of a young woman’s journey from Santa Fe to San Francisco to visit her toddler who was hospitalized with a rare bone disease. “She was trying to get there to be with her child and had insurance but no means for transportation,” Stefko recalled. “The hospital made arrangements for her to be picked up at the Oakland airport.” Passengers, who are often ill, must be able to walk unassisted and not require in-flight medical care. Sometimes there is levity. While ferrying a burn patient from Fresno to Palm Springs about three years ago, Stefko learned something about his grandson – who was still inside his mom’s tummy. Stefko’s daughter Lisa, then 21, kept Stefko company on the flight. “(Lisa) was about seven months pregnant and her son was doing flip flops,” Stefko said. “He loves to fly now and when Luke sees an airplane he runs in the house to come get me.” Sometimes, others save the day. Stefko’s 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, knew some sign language when she sat next to two deaf children on their way to a camp near Yosemite two years ago. The flight was uneventful – even joyful. Stefko glanced over his shoulder to see the kids, who had never met before, signing away rapid fire. “On the way back, Hannah spotted smoke. We made a pass back around and saw a small fire starting in the mountains,” Stefko said. He called air traffic control, who notified the U.S. Forest Service. “Soon after, we saw water-dropping helicopters heading over to put out the fire,” Hannah said. Air traffic controllers called them to say thanks. Not long ago, Stefko said, he was a co-pilot on a flight with Stuart Bloom, a Bel Air resident who flies the caring missions almost weekly. Bloom, an anesthesiologist, likes helping hands-on. “You are directly giving of your time and yourself rather than writing a check to a nameless entity where you don’t know where it’s going,” Bloom said. “You’re providing a service directly to the recipients … people who, without Angel Flight, would not be able to get the medical care they need.” Stefko caught the flying bug when he was 7 during an overnight flight to Santa Barbara with his dad. He began flying at 20 and juggles dual careers as a private pilot and roofing contractor with offices in Van Nuys, San Diego and Las Vegas. In his spare time, he flies. On Labor Day weekend, Stefko took supplies on behalf of the Mexican Red Cross and the Chandler, Ariz.-based Baja Bush pilots to victims stranded by Hurricane John in Mexico. The landing strips were anything but asphalt. “We landed on deserts, remote mesas, dirt runways … and beaches on sand runways,” he said. “These people literally lost everything.” He removed the plane’s back seats and stowed diapers, food, sleeping bags, clothes, shoes, pots, pans, dishes – much of it donated by his friends and neighbors. Janet, Stefko’s wife of 25 years, said her husband likes to spread his blessings. “If he hears about a needy family, someone who’s ill or (even) a family suffering because someone is ill, he’ll support them financially or he’ll gather our family together and say, `Let’s brainstorm what we can do for the family,’ ” she said. This story even has a Hollywood ending. Each year the Stefkos adopt a needy family and head out together to shop for them. “This year we adopted a new family who we learned about through a friend,” Janet said. “It’s a grandmother raising four grandchildren.” For more information about Angel Flight, visit www.angelflight.com or www.angelflight.org. judy.orourke@dailynews.com (661) 257-5255 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SANTA CLARITA It almost sounds like a holiday movie: Pilot fills up the tank, revs the twin engines and transports people who are sick or in need to their destinations for free. Only this is real, and volunteer pilots do it every day. “Dave has been scheduled as the pilot on 25 missions in the past five or so years,” said Jim Weaver, executive director of Angel Flight West, a nonprofit organization that partners private pilots with passengers. last_img

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