By Perry Wilson
Ponoka and Lacombe airports recently hosted dedication events for a missionary plane dubbed ‘Bush Hawk,’ for charity project MiracleAir.
The Hansen family, who are behind the project, were in Ponoka on Sept. 19 and in Lacombe on Sept. 20.
What does the Ponoka airport have to do with remote villages of southeast coastal Nicaragua? The story began when Nancy Hansen and her husband Norman decided to not do what many of her fellow Nicaraguans have done — leave home and never return.
Instead the couple answered what they considered God’s call to help Nicaraguan villagers. They operated an airbase from where Norman could fly a simple aircraft to wherever help was needed and there was an airstrip.
He did an airdrop of medicine to counter snake venom, to save a life where there was no place he could land his aircraft.
For three years they operated this way, before feeling they should do more.
Because of Nancy’s local connections, they were able to meet with the governor who quickly recognized their passion for helping.
On the map he pointed at what he called an “un-reached area” populated by Indigenous peoples. Norman could see there were no roads and knew it would be a job for an aircraft.
When he asked where the airstrips are, the governor shook his head. The plane must land on water: rivers, bays, lagoons.
The governor wrote a letter of introduction which he gave to the Hansens and Jud Wickwire, who had joined them from Kelowna, to provide his background as a missionary pilot.
They were given the use of a high powered open boat and the governor’s personal captain to explore the region. They only had to pay for the fuel ($1,000).
It soon became evident how much better air transport would be. The water is often very rough so you must hold on to something solid.
Imagine you urgently need hospital care so you’re doing a five-hour trip while being rained on and beaten by the wind and waves. It was obvious a float-plane that could do it in 45 minutes would save lives and drastically reduce misery.
Doubts of the locals were assuaged when they saw the governor’s letter.
Nancy added that “When you show the love of Jesus in action, people are very accepting. The plane provides fast transportation to medical care, spreading hope, love and joy.”
Back in Canada, Norman and Nancy took stock. They had no money, no float plane, no vehicle or house in Nicaragua and no name for the organization they needed to create.
“Then things began to fall in place, as pieces of a puzzle” said Curtis Letniak, who is on board with this project and is no stranger to humanitarian organization endeavours in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Fast forward eight months and MiracleAir (Spanish: Aeromilagros) is a fully functional organization which has an aircraft that seats five including the pilot; it has amphibious floats so it can land on a runway or on water.
Seats can be removed for loading a stretcher. This plane was designed and built by the Found Aircraft Company in Ontario for use in Canada’s north country, and Found appropriately called this model the Bush Hawk.
Norman and Nancy flew it through the heavy smoke from Kelowna to Ponoka Sept. 17 in time for the dedication services.
Children were able to climb into the Bush Hawk and dream of being pilots and local supporters were happy to admire it.
Thanks were given to the Ponoka and Lacombe Flying Clubs for hosting.
During the ceremonies, it was announced that the need for a second pilot has been met. Keith and Jennifer La Roy have joined MiracleAir. Now the team is complete.
After some enhancement work is done on the floats, the Bush Hawk will be pointed south to help many people in need.
For videos and more information, please see miracleair.org.