Enter the heartwarming realm of Angel Flight East and join us on an adventure alongside Harry Morales, the visionary creator of this extraordinary organization. Join Maddie and Jess as they sit down with Harry to uncover the remarkable origins of Angel Flight and its profound impact on countless lives. Harry shares his story of hearing the call to help those in need back in 1992. Angel Flight East's commitment to professionalism and safety, even in the face of adversity, became the cornerstone of their organization. He takes us back to the tale of Baby Madeline, the very first child flown by Angel Flight. This experience ignited an unyielding dedication to make Angel Flight a permanent fixture in the community. The organization expanded its reach, flying from New England to Texas, bridging vast geographical gaps with compassion. Fast-forward to the harrowing events of September 11th, 2001, when Angel Flight East played a pivotal role in providing relief during the nation's darkest hour. Harry's leadership and the collaboration of various Angel Flight chapters facilitated the critical transportation of cadaver dogs, blood supplies, and patients to essential medical treatment. Angel Flight has been soaring compassion, uniting skies and hearts for over 30 years. Tune in now and hear their story!
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We have a different guest for you. Harry Morales, the Founder of Angel Flight East, is joining us. Hey, Harry.
Hello there. Welcome to your audience.
Can you give our audience a walkthrough of where Angel Flight came from and the story behind us?
You have to go back to 1992. Florida gets walloped with Hurricane Andrew. It wasn't supposed to be a level-five hurricane, but it did. It wiped out Homestead, Florida. I'm living in the Philadelphia area. That doesn't impact you in the Northeast. I'm a quasi-computer nerd. Back then, before Facebook and everything else, there was a company called CompuServe where you join different groups. I joined the aviation group.
I'm reading about how these pilots or volunteer pilots are helping. The SIG, the Special Interest Group, we were going back and forth. I got this post that says that these pilots who are under threat of federal jailing flew for 48 hours with 115,000 pounds of food and supplies to the people in need. It will move anyone. I was the president of a consulting firm. I'm very busy, but it moved me so much I wanted to help. It was like, “I have an airplane. I can go down there. I want to be a part of this.”
To my surprise, when I finally got to Mary Webb, who was the President of Angel Flight Florida, thanked me very much and said, “Thank you. We have so many volunteers that if you want to help, Angel Flight itself is not an emergency relief organization. It helps medically needy families. This is something we do every day. If you want to help, Philadelphia has been struggling to get an Angel Flight started. Why don't you help there?” I was like, “Okay.” Once I make a commitment, it's a commitment, so I went ahead and found the people who were struggling with it. One thing led to another.
"Once I make a commitment, it's the commitment."
I have a very dear friend. He is the General Counsel or Cofounder for Angel Flight, Jeff Kahn. As a businessman, I knew nothing about nonprofits, so I went to a lawyer. Jeff was our lawyer. I said, “What do I need to do? How do you make this happen?” He guided us. We put together an advisory committee or founding committee.
It was very simple for me. I like to excel. At the end of the day, if you are going to give non-aviation people a free ride, you want them to have a good experience. They are already going through significant trauma, an illness, or a family illness. Our goal was simple. On day one, the first flight happened to be baby Madeline. I will never forget her. On that first flight, I wanted our organization to be so professional that someone wouldn't know that it was our first flight.
We went to every other Angel Flight. We gathered information and went over it. We created an operating handbook right out of the gate. We set requirements for what it would take to fly. Lo and behold, little Angel Flight of PA, as it was originally called, was born. We started flying. Baby Madeline was the very first child from Florida flown up to Philadelphia for what was called a left heart syndrome operation.
Angel Flight, for me, was something that I wanted to do, but baby Madeline made it something that I had to do. She changed the whole dynamics. We flew her a couple of times, and on the last flight, she didn't make it. That's probably the hardest part. It is when you are helping somebody and you think, “We are going to figure it out. It's going to work,” and it didn't work. For me, I said, “You have gotten this started. At the end of the day, you have to make it permanent. Angel Flight has to be a part of our community like the Red Cross is. They are always there.”
We put in a lot of time. The proof is here you are. Angel Flight has lasted a long time and I'm very proud of that. That's the story. We changed our name to Angel Flight East because, at the end of the day, we were flying from New England to Minnesota to Texas to Florida. We were covering a large geography, so it made sense that we were regionalized and became Angel Flight East.
We always talk about how pilots develop these relationships with the passengers they fly. The fact that you will never forget your first flight with Madeline makes it all so real and everything. This episode will be released on September 11th, 2023. Can you talk about Angel Flight's response to 9/11?
Yes, I can. I was in Atlanta on the tenth with a corporate client. On 9/11, I was heading to the airport to fly back to Philadelphia when I was able to see one of the towers go down. As you can imagine, like every other American, I was devastated. I'm walking around Atlanta in a daze not knowing what to do. There's a news report. One of the directors of the Red Cross from Atlanta needed to get to Washington DC to project manage one of the sites. He said, “We don't know how we are going to get there. We are probably going to drive.”
One thing led to another, Angel Flight Soars, which at the time was Angel Flight Georgia out of Atlanta, has always been a partner of Angel Flight East. I was willing to fly him. At this point, the Angel Flights within the federal system had a heck of a lot more credibility. When Angel Flight called the FAA, because all airspace was grounded, FAA granted me special permission. Lo and behold, on 9/12/2001, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, I took the passengers and flew them into Washington DC. I was the only airplane in the air that I know of.
After that, I turned around and continued to Philadelphia. Our phone was ringing. The office was closed. We reopened it and said, “The country is under attack. Everyone is all hands on duty. We need help. We need to help people.” Angel Flight New England, Angel Flight East, and Angel Flight Soars, which was Georgia, all came together to help the country.
What was interesting was we flew cadaver dogs to New York. We still had patients that needed to get to critical treatment. I received a call from a medical center in Boston. They said that they were running out of blood. They used the airlines to take the blood to Lakeland, Florida for super analysis and they could release the blood within 24 hours. Without that, the blood would go stale, so they were like, “Could you help us?” I said, “I will try to figure something out.” We then got a call from Hartford, Albany, and Pittsburgh. There were all these medical centers saying, “Us, too. We need help.”
Teterboro, New Jersey had a ton of corporate pilots and planes sitting there. We devised a spoken wheel whereby the Angel Flight pilots in the Cessnas and the Bonanzas would collect blood and they would bring them all to Trenton, New Jersey. The FAA gave us permission because New York was locked down. You weren't allowed to come out of there.
Each of these corporate pilots was given special permission to leave Teterboro, come to Trenton, take our blood supplies that night, and fly them to Lakeland. We kept that going for almost two weeks. That meant that the Angel Flight East Organization was in the office from 6:00 in the morning until 12:00 to 1:00 in the morning coordinating all of these emergency relief efforts. I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of what we did. That was our story.
That's a good story. I wasn't even there and I'm proud of that. You make our PPE deliveries look like a piece of cake.
I came up with a saying, and part of it was Madeline. It’s, “Healing should be about getting better, not getting there.” This country has so much capability. You hear the story of a family that needs to get 500 miles and they are driving a car with over 200,000 miles. We had a situation where the gentleman needed to take time off to take his daughter to get well and he was fired. The amount of stress that a family has to go through to save their loved one is incredible. When you get on board an Angel Flight, it's an angel that is coming to help you. What that does for the family and the pilot, money or words cannot describe it. You have to experience it.
Our pilots get almost as much, if not more, out of these flights than the patients. I'm sure that every single one reading this will tell us that.
I would agree with the bond that is created. We have a passion to fly. I have a passion to fly. It is to share that or use the gift that I have been given to help another and pass it forward in a way that no donation could compare. I would agree with you.
What was it like coordinating flights many years ago before we had dial-up internet?
2,400 baud. That was an interesting setup. We didn't have an office the way you have one. What I did was get a virtual office and locate the manager of an executive office park. We had a phone number. That is all we had. We also had beepers. You have got a human being. The office would take the call and then pretty much set off one of the beepers.
We figured out how to set up mission coordinators, so to speak. It was all volunteer. Some were retired pilots. We had our little checklist. Were you medically and financially in need? That's not always so simple. We received a call. It was from Michigan or Minnesota. The father was an engineer. You would think, “He can afford it.” The medicine that the child had to take was over $20,000 a month. It was well beyond their financial capability.
Anybody's financial capability.
Some of these treatments might save you, but they can also bankrupt you. We flew that child from Minnesota to Boston with the help of LifeLine Pilots and Angel Flight New England or Northeast, which is what they are known now. It was purely a volunteer effort and purely a private aircraft. You are in the business of recruiting more pilots. We made a requirement back then that any Angel Flight pilot had to be an instrument-rated pilot and they could only fly into a towered airport. When you are flying people like this, the last thing in the world you want to hear about is an accident. For me, safety and safety protocols were paramount. We followed it. I will tell you one day, I was about to break one of my own rules. The mission coordinator said, “You are not. Not on my watch.”
We all need those people around us.
I feel like normally, we end up being the ones who are like, “We should break this rule.”
The stories you hear from the families make your bad day seem like not a bad day at all with what these families go through. You are right. A lot of them could be very financially well-off, but if they have to travel multiple times for treatment, those bills add up and the hotels add up as well as the food. We always take that into account. Maybe they could afford one trip but not continuously keep traveling for the treatment that can save their lives.
I agree with you. I had no idea that, in some cases, people have to go for years. Multiple times a year for treatment can get out of hand very quickly.
We have even seen patients who are going multiple times a month where they have to go and they have to be there every Tuesday. It's insane because, by the time we get them home, it's right around time for them to go back.
I remember many of them. There was one young lady from West Virginia that had Lyme disease and no one knew it. Her body was shutting down. She went from 125 pounds to 80 pounds. The doctors are telling her mother, “She has anorexia.” The mother's like, “She doesn't. I know this girl.” It was only this doctor in Long Island that understood it.
We had to take that child multiple times for years. On the last flight, her mother says to me, “You saved my daughter. My daughter is going to be able to get married now. She's going to be able to walk down an aisle.” A wonderful Angel Flight pilot, David Altman, had a twin Navajo. He took this girl as if it was his daughter. He wanted that mission every single time. I remember one time when the weather was bad. He said, “I’m going to fly you to Blue Bell Wings Field. You are going to stay at my house. We will continue the flight in the morning.” That's what they did.
That is so powerful, the relationships that formed.
I'm so glad that you have embraced Angel Flight. It is so much bigger than I could have imagined. It warms my heart to see that it is a part of Philadelphia.
I love that. Every time I talk to you, I feel like I'm talking to a celebrity, the Founder of Angel Flight. What is one final thought you would want to leave our audience with?
Angel Flight is maybe one of the best examples of unselfishly giving. You are giving without strings. You are giving because it's the right thing to do. You are helping your neighbor. I'm not an overly religious person, but it's the right thing to do. It brings a spirit of community that we need as much as ever.
Isn't that the truth?
Thank you for continuing it.
Thank you for getting us started. We so appreciate you helping us tell our story.
Have a great day.
Thank you. You, too.
I feel like such a productive member of society listening to him talk, and I didn't do anything.
I always loved hearing about the story of 9/11 because I had no idea until he did that piece for the gala that we did.
It's crazy. I also want to point out to our audience that in that first year of flights with baby Madeline and a few others, there were only seventeen flights done that entire year. We have grown to do almost 1,000 flights a year. In some cases, we have done more than 1,000 flights a year. It's wild to see exactly how things can grow by putting your care into what's important and if you have a passion, really following it.
Also, a shout-out to one of our audience who recommended this as a topic for us. We appreciate it. It also happens to be my dad.
I was going to say that. I was like, “Isn't it Kevin Beck?”
Hi, Papa. Thank you for doing this. We appreciate you. I hope you are still reading it at this point.
I feel like a lot of people do ask us how Angel Flight was started. There's no better person to tell the story than Harry who is the founder.
I love it. He does make our PPE process seem like a cakewalk.
I know. When he was talking about that, I was like, “We have been telling everybody how difficult PPE was and here you are, working 6:00 AM to midnight for those flights.” I was like, “We can't talk about PPE anymore after this one.”
We didn't do much.
That's amazing. I would always talk about that.
I hope that's on his resume somewhere.
It should be.
It's crazy. I am so grateful to be a part of something so much bigger than I even knew. Look at us. Thank you so much for reading. We hope you enjoyed hearing the story of Angel Flight and the impact that we had many years ago and we will continue to have.
All through the rest of our lives. We will see you there.