Peter Moran never had a desire to fly a plane. After running a thoroughbred horse farm on the Peninsula for 35 years with his wife Janet, it was only during a holiday in the Kimberleys that it all changed. Peter became concerned he wouldn’t get time to experience everything he yearned to during his limited time away. Upon booking a charter flight, he got his first taste of flying in the co-pilot’s seat next to a 21-year-old pilot who told him, “You’re not bad; you should learn how to fly”. He never looked back.
And I can see why. When we take off smoothly from Tyabb airport in his Cessna 172, the view from up above is like no other. We remain at an ideal distance from the ground to observe the characteristics of the coast, lush hinterlands, and plentiful expanses of water. It’s a surreal experience from the co-pilot’s seat as I embrace the almost 360-degree view that leaves me speechless. With an effortless landing in the four-seater aircraft, I can now appreciate why the patient’s nerves are quickly put at ease with Peter’s expertise, and of course his friendly demeanour. It’s exhilarating, and I can now understand his addiction.
Peter’s gone from strength to strength since trying his hand at flying in 2007. Just like that, at 55 he discovered a passion for flying and became a private pilot. In 2011, Peter’s friend and soon-to-be mentor Craig Toole introduced him to Angel Flights. Established in 2003, Angel Flights Australia is a charity that co-ordinates non-emergency flights to assist people to have convenient access to specialist medical treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to them because of their distance from treatment, high travel costs, or because they are simply too unwell to travel. Since its beginning, many thousands of flight missions have been completed. While the planes’ fuel is paid for by donations, pilots must pay for their own aircraft, maintenance, personal costs, hangarage, insurance, access fees and more.
It's ever so easy to talk to Peter, so we discuss the countless times he’s encountered patients fighting against the odds, where the cost of travelling a sizeable distance on top of everything else is just all too much. He recalls a woman with a six-week-old baby who was travelling from Lakes Entrance to the Royal Children’s Hospital for regular appointments. It was a gruelling three-day return trip because she stopped frequently to feed her newborn and check in with her other children she’d left at home with her partner. Enter Angel Flights. With Peter at the controls, her challenging journey turned into a remarkable six-hour return trip. After forming a bond with her over countless trips, Peter was invited to the child’s first birthday. Another of Peter’s fond memories is of a patient who gained an extra year with their family thanks to experimental treatment and Peter’s assistance. It’s beyond heart-warming the difference Peter made to their lives, and many others assisted by Angel Flights. The convenience of air travel changes people’s lives more than you could ever imagine — and it’s not just the patient but their family and friends as well.
“It hits home how big you are in their life,” said Peter. “You have no idea the difference you can make to these people’s lives. I keep in contact with many patients as you really get to know each other during the flights. A friendly face helps nerves too. Once, when the weather meant it wasn’t safe to fly, I put up a patient for the night as he was just too unwell to travel even by car. He’s much better now, and whenever I’m in his town of Mallacoota he offers a lift to whoever may need it.”
Earth Angels do their work on the ground, transporting patients to and from the airport to their house or treatment centre. Together with Angel Flights they cut the trip time down so patients can get their treatment and ultimately stay alive. These volunteers are with them at their worst and most challenging times. There are a few other Angel Flights pilots operating out of Tyabb, and if they’re anything like Peter, we’re sure all of their patients will have their minds put at ease thanks to the pilots’ friendly demeanour and abundant kindness.
Peter is a busy man. When we first got in contact with him through a friend who’d said “He might not be interested as he’s too modest”, Peter was busy donating blood. The farm’s still on the scene and Peter is often making appearances as a guest speaker where he shares his personal stories of how Angel Flights has changed people’s lives. And he’s got 158 Angel Flights under his wing. ‘Busy’ is an understatement.
After training in the US, Peter co-purchased his plane with fellow pilot and friend Rowan Miller. Together, they explore Australia by air. It’s become more of a ‘where have we not landed’ instead of ‘where haven’t we been’, and after beginning these flying holidays in 2009, there’s no sign of stopping. He’s gone from being someone with no interest in flying to this — and every aspect of it is remarkable.
Angel Flights relies solely on donations and fundraisers. To keep Peter up in the air and giving his time to others in need, visit www.angelflight.org.au for more information or to donate.
Words and photos by KATE SEARS