Zelienople program grants 98-year-old woman's helicopter ride wish
May 21, 2012 12:50 PM
Ron Resch, far left, and Steve Crawford help pilot Ron Spiker buckle in Georgene Barto, who turns 99 on May 29, for a helicopter ride.
Ron Resch, far left, and Steve Crawford help pilot Ron Spiker buckle in Georgene Barto, who turns 99 on May 29, for a 30-minute helicopter ride. Elmcroft of Chippewa Senior Living Community, where Mrs. Barto resides, arranged for her ride as part of its Second Wind Dreams program, which fulfills a wish or dream for residents.
Kurt Weber / Post-Gazette
Steve Crawford, a cook at Elmcroft Senior Living, lifts her Georgene Barto from the helicopter with help from Ron Resch and pilot Ron Spiker.
Kurt Weber / Post-Gazette
Georgene Barto waits near the terminal at Beaver County Airport for the arrival of a helpcopter owned and operated by Ron Resch and Ron Spiker.
By Linda Wilson Fuoco Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"I've been waiting a long time for this," said Georgene Barto as she climbed a wooden three-step ladder into the cockpit of an Engstrom helicopter parked on the runway of the Beaver County Airport. Rotors whirred and lifted the chopper just several feet off the ground, at first. It hovered for several minutes while Mrs. Barto waved and smiled to relatives and friends who came to share her joy at the gift of a 30-minute helicopter ride.
The ride was Sunday, just nine days before her 99th birthday on May 29.
When the helicopter landed on the runway in Chippewa, Mrs. Barto was waving again, and smiling.
"It was just something I always wanted to do," she explained. "I thought it would be fun, and it was."
The red, black, silver and white helicopter flew at a height of about 600 feet, traveling 75 to 85 mph over the Ohio River and northern Beaver County, including Conway, where Mrs. Barto lived for most of her life.
"You can not imagine how many trees there are, and how green everything is," she told her entourage of 20 friends and relatives, who snapped many photographs. "It was wonderful! It was beautiful! I am so glad I did it. Thank you to everyone."
The flight was donated by Spiker Helicopters, a three-copter company that operates out of the Zelienople Municipal Airport. The staff does flight training and is available for scenic rides, search and location and for aerial photography.
Mrs. Barto's dream flight has been in the planning stages for months. It started with Second Wind Dreams, a program at the facility where she has lived for the last four years, Elmcroft of Chippewa Senior Living Community.
Residents are asked to make a wish for something special they would like to do, and the staff tries to make the wish come true, said Melissa Chambers, community relations director at Elmcroft. Recent wishes have included a golf outing and a fishing trip for several men. Mrs. Barto's helicopter request was a first, and Spiker Helicopters agreed to grant it at no cost. The flight was delayed several times because of bad weather or high winds.
Company owner Ron Spiker flew from Zelienople to Chippewa Sunday, accompanied by Ron Resch, part owner of some of the helicopters.
The Engstrom helicopter is designed to carry the pilot and two passengers, "though it's a tight fit with three. Two would be more comfortable," Mr. Resch said. Mrs. Barto rode in the middle with Mr. Spiker piloting on the left side and her guest, Steve Crawford, on her right.
Mr. Crawford, dining services director at Elmcroft, admitted to being somewhat nervous about the flight, though Mrs. Barto was not apprehensive at all. She smiled and clapped her hands throughout the flight, Mr. Spiker said.
"Awesome and fun" were the words Mr. Crawford used to describe the experience. The ride was much smoother than expected, he said, with "unbelievable panoramic views."
Mrs. Barto has always had an adventurous streak, said her niece, Shirley Joseph of Aliquippa. "Years ago we went to Coney Island and she rode everything, including a parachute ride that dropped 250 feet. She also enjoyed traveling."
"Yes, I rode the big planes and I rode the puddle-jumpers," Mrs. Barto said. "But I never rode a helicopter. Until today."
After the flight Mrs. Barto and her friends and family returned to Elmcroft Senior Living for a celebratory ice cream cake.