Keeping the tanks filled

by Robert Waunch

It’s the afternoon and your spouse or child just had a life-threatening medical event and was flown off to a hospital emergency room on the mainland. It’s imperative that you get to the hospital – right away! Can you wait hours for the ferry – if it’s even operating?

Your spouse or child just had a serious fall and broke some bones. It’s not a life-threatening event but they need to get to a hospital emergency room on the mainland — immediately! Can you wait for the ferry — if it’s even operating?

Your medical diagnosis requires chemo or radiation, etc. The sessions can be once a week or several days a week at a treatment center on the mainland. You work and it will take the entire day if you must use the ferry. What do you do?

These are just a few of the many types of medical situations that can happen to any of us. Thankfully for islanders, caring island pilots stepped up to offer help. The Orcas Aviation Association formed Mercy Flight, a group of volunteer pilots willing to fly islanders back and forth to mainland medical facilities.

This valuable island service has been operating since the 90s. In addition to flying islanders off-island for medical care, Mercy Flights Orcas Island also flies family members in emergencies, providing timely reliable transportation to specialist’s appointments when the ferry is not available, or not operating on time.

There is never a charge for this service. Mercy pilots are normally reimbursed 10 gallons of fuel for each flight but that in no way covers the actual cost of operating an aircraft, keeping it hangered, paying insurance, etc., or for their time. Some of the flights are generously flown without any fuel reimbursement. To date, fuel reimbursement costs have been paid by donations from concerned community members.

How many flights are flown a year? Here are the number of “fuel reimbursed” flights:

2019 – 201

2020 – 188

2021 – 166

2022 – Jan – July 146!

In addition to fuel reimbursed flights, over 100 additional flights per year are donated by our pilots. The Orcas community is fortunate to have a group of dedicated pilots that provide this critical service.

However, the fuel fund is running low and is projected to be depleted by the end of the year. You can help keep the tanks full for our Mercy pilots by contributing to Mercy Flight Fund through the Orcas Island Community Foundation at

Lions Club steps up to help!

When the Orcas Island Lions Club heard Mercy Flight was running out of funds for fuel reimbursement it immediately stepped up with a $2,000 matching fund. Contributions to the Lion’s Club Mercy Flight Matching Fund may be mailed c/o Orcas Island Lions Club, PO Box 1212, Eastsound, WA 98245. What a perfect example of how Orcas Islanders rally and take care of each other.