|The Flying Samaritans is
a group of professionals from many different walks of life
interested in helping bring healthcare to people in Mexico.
They are physicians, nurses, dentists, pilots, translators
and many other people who are non-sectarian in nature. Their
bylaws clearly establish the purpose of their organization:
to offer medical assistance and education to the people
in rural areas of Mexico.
Flying Samaritan Clinics are operated free of charge to
the patients. 'Flying Sams' have four basic missions -
primary care, specialty care, education and emergency
The first mission has Sams flying (and driving)
to clinics where they provide non-emergency services,
such as family medicine, optometry, audiology, dentistry
and dental hygiene, and preventative health care. Most
patients are the 60% of the Mexican population who are
not eligible for Mexican Social Security medical care.
Unless the Sams are working with Mexican doctors, they
can only practice in areas where there are no doctors.
Sams physicians usually perform surgery only when another
doctor is present to provide follow up care.
The second mission, specialty care, is a
cooperative effort to provide specialty care at a single
location, the Buen Pastor Hospital in San Quintin, where
follow up care is available that many clinics cannot provide.
The third mission is education and through
this the Flying Sams assist in the training of pasantes,
medical and dental graduates interested in additional
And lastly, to meet medical emergencies,
Sams professionals assist with disasters and critical
The Central Valley Chapter of the Flying
Samaritans is directly involved with San Felipe.
The history of the Flying Samaritans began
on November 16, 1961. While most of San Diego County was
socked in by an unaccustomed dust storm prompted by a
severe drought, John A. Vietor, owner and publisher of
the San Diego Magazine, and Roberta Ridgley, the magazine's
editor, took off from La Paz, Baja California, Mexico,
in a twin engine Beechcraft piloted by Aileen Saunders,
of El Cajon, a noted woman pilot. Accompanying the three
were Leah Hanlon, Polly Ross and Frank Zehner, Aileen's
seventeen year old son. In those days travel by small
plane in Baja was challenging and somewhat dangerous mainly
because of three factors. The deceptively soft terrain
that often precluded any take off after a forced landing,
the absence of any radio equipped airport below Tijuana,
and not even the crudest lighting at most landing strips.
Although the weather was good as the group
left La Paz, when they landed about three hours later
in Bahia de Los Angeles, they encountered a brisk wind
and were told there was a rumor of strong winds in the
greater Los Angeles area. Vietor, one of the passengers,
was anxious to reach San Diego in time to pick up a flight
to San Francisco which would enable him to attend a dinner
party for Ingrid Bergman. About 45 minutes after taking
off from Bahia de Los Angeles they encountered gusty sandstorms
that blocked out Tijuana. Failing to pick up either Tijuana
or San Diego, Aileen decided to try for a landing in Ensenada.
Nearing the airport everything looked good for a landing.
Suddenly, within three minutes of landing, the weather
closed in completely and they lost sight of the ground
as well as the 5,000 to 7,000 foot peaks in the area.
They circled to gain altitude, avoiding the peaks and
consuming precious fuel. They were finally able to climb
out over the storm. At this point, low on fuel and with
a thorough knowledge of flying in Baja, Aileen knew there
were few landing options. She chose a clearing on the
mesa top of a mountain outside the village of El Rosario.
Dodging a large pothole they landed safely just ahead
of the dust storm.
The area Fish
and Game Warden who knew Aileen and had heard the plane
circling the village drove up to retrieve them. The town's
Mayor permitted them the use of his office which had the
single telephone line between El Rosario and Ensenada,
although the call did not go through. Acting as interpreter,
Anita Espinosa, the proprietor of the local general store
who was half Pima Indian and half Italian and who had
been educated in a San Diego Mission school, generously
offered the group hot chocolate while apologizing for
With prompting she began to tell of the
local devastation from the drought and the pitiless existence
of the people there. She said she would be grateful for
any clothing contributions, especially for the children,
and she herself would see that they were distributed.
The people of the village were not only impoverished they
were not well.
Once safely back in San Diego, having spent
the night in the El Rosario area, Aileen, Leah and Polly,
all female pilots and members of the "99's", began collecting
donations for a return relief flight to Baja. On the Saturday
before Christmas of that year, an armada of single engine
planes departed Gillespie Field in San Diego bound for
Baja, every one loaded to the top with toys, food, clothing
and good will. Among the volunteers was a doctor who had
his medical bag with him. Once in El Rosario he was mobbed
by people needing care and so was born the Flying Samaritans,
first dubbed the Flying Angels by the people of El Rosario.
That first doctor was quickly joined by
nurses, dentists and other health care providers whose
services were so desperately needed. In the early days
the trips were made every other week. The government owned
Hospital Civil de El Rosario served as the first clinic
site. Although it had been virtually abandoned, the Flying
Samaritans and the people of El Rosario, working together,
soon had a facility from which the people could be seen
The vision of that first pilot, Aileen Saunders
Mellott, who also served as the organization's first President,
and her untiring efforts to enlist volunteers, along with
her valuable contacts with both U.S. and Mexican officials,
facilitated the transport of equipment and supplies necessary
to establish the original clinic at El Rosario and, later,
the second at Colonet.
The Flying Samaritans currently have 1400
members and are governed by an International Board of
Directors with representatives from all eleven chapters.
The Flying Samaritans is an organization recognized as
exempt under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue
San Felipe Clinic....
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