Fr. Patten in Tanzania

Volunteers In Flight: “Keeps the adrenaline flowing and keeps God in mind.”

Father Pat Patten, CSSp, has spent twenty years as a bush pilot in Tanzania, the only Spiritan and only priest of four Flying Medical Service volunteers. They provide regular preventive, curative, and emergency health care and health education in areas far removed from ordinary medical facilities.

The volunteers fly about nine hundred hours a year using two specially modified Cessna 206 aircraft. Last year they treated 17,554 patients and flew eighty-four emergency flights, treating everything from the common cold to injuries by hyenas and lions and spear wounds.

Fr. Patten shares this story:
I was flying with the senior staff of one of the bush hospitals in the country, in all six adults and an infant. Weather was stormy. We were flying on instruments. We had a total engine failure at 7,000 feet. No one panicked. We glided down through 6,000 feet of thick cloud till we could just begin to see some patches of earth only a thousand feet below us. We landed in a rice field without any injuries and not a scratch on the airplane. But it took us six weeks to get out.

We built a small airstrip and had to drain a swamp to get our makeshift runway dry enough to take off again. We slept in a mud hut, which we shared with a giant monitor lizard and a green snake. Hippos occasionally visited us on the runway. There were crocodiles and pythons in the water around us, and through which we had to swim to get to the plane.