Early on a chilly, overcast morning, pilot Mike Murdock met Walt and Esther Dahnke at the Madison County Executive Airport for a special mission.
Esther limped into the small airport, a large boot on her right foot. Walt followed close behind, carrying her small suitcase and a bag containing a large gift covered in pastel “new baby” wrapping paper.
Esther was on her way to be with her daughter in Virginia, who’d just had her fourth baby via cesarean section. This particular trip, however, wasn’t what the Dahnkes had originally planned.
“Breaking my ankle on the third of March – that was the day we had all the ice – put a kink in everything because I couldn’t safely drive anywhere,” said Esther, a former operating room nurse at Huntsville Hospital, now retired and in her 70s. “But we started working on the problem, and the Lord blessed.”
She’d slipped on an icy ramp behind her home, causing a nasty fracture up the middle of her ankle bone. Doctors told her it would take six to eight weeks to heal – and because it was her right foot, she wouldn’t be able to drive.
“I’m the type of person that doesn’t give up easily,” said Esther as she sat in the airport waiting room.
“She’ll find a way,” her husband added. “Even if it means hitchhiking.”
After the accident, Walt had the idea to contact Angel Flight Soars, an organization based out of the Dekalb Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. The group is comprised of volunteer pilots who undertake medical and compassionate care flights for people who don’t have the means or ability to organize their own travel. In 2012, Angel Flight Soars pilots completed 2,361 missions across the Southeast.
The Dahnkes were approved by Angel Flight Soars, which assigned a pilot to fly Esther to see her daughter.
Enter Mike Murdock. He’s been flying since 2000 – volunteering with Angel Flight Soars for the past several years – and volunteered to take Esther to Virginia in his Cessna Citation Mustang jet.
“It means a lot to me because of the great people I get to meet,” said Murdock of his volunteer work with Angel Flight. “It helps you appreciate your own good fortune, and being healthy, after meeting people struggling with so many health problems. It just feels good to help these people out.
“And,” he said with a smile, “it’s a good excuse to go flying.”
Murdock took the Dahnkes to the hangar where his airplane sat waiting. Walt led the group in a prayer before giving Esther a kiss goodbye.
“I never anticipated that Angel Flight would offer us as much as they did,” Walt said. “That was a blessing and we thank the Lord for them.”
Esther will spend two weeks with her daughter and new baby granddaughter, named Ava Hope Joy.