Joe DeMarco began his life in aviation in 2004 when he purchased his first Cirrus aircraft. At the time, he enjoyed flying for the adventure of it – being able to spontaneously take a friend out to lunch in a new city or sightseeing in a town he had always wanted to visit. However, Joe’s outlook on flying altered one day when he took a flight with Hans, a little boy suffering from cancer that had reached his spine.
“The family needed a ride from New Jersey to their home in Pennsylvania, and due to Hans’ poor immune system, commercial flights just were not a safe option for them,” Joe said.
Upon their arrival to pick up the family, Hans’ mom and aunt broke down in tears and thanked Joe and his friend, who flew with him for helping them get home. Today Hans is 18 and in good health, but that first flight will always mark a change in Joe’s life.
In 2010, Joe founded Wings Flights of Hope, a non-profit organization where Joe, and 20 other volunteer pilots, provide flights for individuals and their families to and from medical care free of cost. Through his work, Joe and his team make an average of 250- 350 trips per year, helping people of all ages and economic backgrounds.
“I took my passion and found a way to make a difference in people’s lives,” Joe said. “Some days are sad, but luckily the good stories outweigh the bad.”
A couple of unique stories that Joe shared from his time with Wings Flights of Hope include helping a woman in terminal condition get home in time to see her daughter get married, and regularly flying Luke, a boy who had a double lung transplant. Luke spent years simply calling Joe, ‘my pilot’.
Wings Flights of Hope never puts a cap on how many flights they will offer one patient, and although they are stationed outside of Buffalo, New York, and conduct most of their business in the Northeast, they have often flown patients as far as Florida to receive care.
For Joe, the business model is pretty simple: to help those in need. Wings Flights of Hope doesn’t typically carry life support patients due to the fragile nature of their condition. However, when a young couple asked for help for their little boy Calvin, Joe couldn’t turn them down.
“The cost of an ambulance ride for them was going to be $20,000 at minimum,” Joe said, “I knew my place was to step in and help this family.”
As for the wings behind ‘Wings,’ Joe initially turned to Lone Mountain in 2007 for his first aircraft – a Cirrus G3, which President Mark Rogers helped him acquire. Mark again helped Joe last year when he upgraded to a 2013 Cirrus G5. Joe also owns a 2013 Piper Malibu.
“My experience with Lone Mountain was great,” Joe said. “Mark may be the president, but he still took the time to take care of me. He did everything he could to make sure I didn’t have an interruption in my ‘Wings’ operations as I transitioned between aircraft.”
Joe also gives thanks to his wife, Diane, who masterminds fundraising and event coordination for the organization on top of gracefully dealing with his frequent absences.
“Not many wives would be so supportive of their husband, dropping everything to follow their passion. I’m a lucky guy.”
“Lucky” – the word so many would use to describe their experience flying with Joe and his team.
According to Joe, the team is always looking for more pilots to offer flights. Those interested in learning more about Wings Flights of Hope and its mission can find more information on WingsFlight.org or on Facebook at Facebook.com/wingsflight.