A pilot’s note to the family of a passenger who has passed.
By Command Pilot Alex Polvi
I can’t imagine the grief you must be going through. As a pilot for Angel Flight West, I had the special opportunity to fly your brother from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica. Our flight is specifically memorable to me and I thought you might appreciate hearing the story.
First, the conditions. This was late October 2019 and the day in the news said “red flag” warnings for fires. I’m based in LA and days like this are not super ideal for flying because the winds are so strong; that’s also why the fires tend to spread fast.
Shortly thereafter, I met up with Michael in Santa Barbara and explained why we might reconsider flying. The winds in Santa Barbara were fine for take off, and the winds in Santa Monica were fine for landing, but the winds between us and LA, mainly over Oxnard and Camarillo, were going to be intense. This meant it was going to be a bumpy ride. This is not an issue for safety, but did mean we would get some bumps and drops and it might not be the most pleasant ride. Well, Michael responded enthusiastically, “I love roller coasters!” We both laughed and took off. Again, this is not a safety issue, more a comfort one, but since your brother was full of so much fervor and courage, I was confident it would not be a problem.
On the ride home your brother told me the story about how he got the disease he was researching. He told it from a place of amazement. “Listen how crazy this story is!” versus one of sadness or frustration. This was mixed in with the bump and drops in the sky, followed by the subsequent hoots and laughs as we rode the “roller coaster.” This really made me appreciate his ability to have fun, even in the face of the tough hand he had been dealt.
As we approached Santa Monica we were cleared to land and I made a gentle and short landing. Michael told me, “That was the best landing I’ve ever had, and this is my favorite plane I’ve ever flown in!” As a pilot those are both things that you don’t easily forget.
Michael was also the only patient that I’ve ever flown both as a Command Pilot, and driven as an Earth Angel. Instead of the normal drop off near the Angel Flight West office, I took him to my hanger where my car was waiting, and pulled the plane into the hanger. He was in awe the whole time asking me a million questions about this and that and gave me a hand getting the plane inside. Seeing all this through his eyes really made me have a greater appreciation for my own life, and again, I thank him for that.
I dropped him off near his appointment and we went our separate ways. This was all in all a two-hour slice of life that we shared, but for me, it was extremely memorable and meaningful. I can barely imagine what a life together with him must have been like. My deepest condolences to you and your family. Know that your brother’s memory will continue to live in my heart and I’m sure many others in the Angel Flight community.