Angel Flight West brings Christmas to hundreds of Utah children


25 volunteer pilots from Angel Flights West filled their planes with thousands of pounds of donated gifts and Mr. and Mrs. Claus to surprise St. George’s Sunset Elementary School students on Dec. 7. 

Angel Flight pilots and community groups throughout Utah gathered donated items such as winter coats, books and toys, based on the needs of the school.

Angel Flight West volunteers Santa and Mrs. Claus hand out various goodies to students. Angel Flight West celebrated 40 years of flight missions to those in need. (Alice Gubler)

With every Angel Flight mission, pilots donated their fuel, expertise, time and operating expenses.

According to an AFW press release, Mountain America Credit Union and Bank of Utah both gave generous donations to help stock the planes. KUED, or PBS Utah, also provided 600 books to students and parents through their “Ready to Learn” program.

Donations were unloaded by members of the National Guard Triple Deuce and volunteers, including friends and family of the pilots.

Before the arrival of Santa, hundreds of children from Sunset Elementary were bused to the small St.George airport D1 hangar. There, parents and pilots chatted and took photos as Sunset Elementary staff led them in Christmas songs before Santa’s arrival. 

After a few short songs, a Beechcraft Bonanza M35 aircraft landed in front of the St. George D1 hangar. AFW volunteers dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus and elves were welcomed by excited students.

The volunteer Claus couple and elves sang Christmas songs and high-fived students in the crowd.

In between songs, Santa introduced and thanked event coordinators such as Wing leader Steve Bollinger who presented donations and helped organize the flight arrangements for involved pilots.  

Joanne Brattain, a volunteer outreach coordinator for Angel Flights West, said she and her husband found the event rewarding because they do not have any kids of their own.

“I love it … seeing all these kids with Santa makes our Christmas,” Brattain said.

Sunset Elementary Principal Julie Smith said she is grateful her school was chosen for the annual Santa Flight.

“We try to create peak moments, which are moments our kids will remember forever,” Smith said. “This is a moment that our kids will remember forever.”

Smith explained Sunset Elementary is a Title I school, where most families live below the poverty line and endure “heartbreaking” circumstances. 

Spencer Carver, public relations specialist from Mountain America Credit Union, said he is happy to be a part of something so special.

“It’s the kids I love … supporting kids that don’t get very much for Christmas and supporting the community,” Carver said. 

After singing “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas songs, Sunset Elementary children eagerly lined up to receive a hug and candy cane from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Heartfelt goodbyes were exchanged with AFW volunteers before students and staff traveled back to the school.

Angel Flights West is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that arranges free, non-emergency air and ground travel for children, adults and service animals with serious medical conditions. This year, AFW celebrated 40 years of service and more than 100,000 missions flown. Utah has 92 pilots who fly more than 150 missions a year for AFW.

For more information on the mission of Angel Flight West and to learn how to volunteer, visit the Angel Flights West website. 

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