MANASSAS, Va. (WDVM) — On Wednesday afternoon, City of Manassas residents caught a glimpse of a 20-aircraft flyover over the city, which included a special “thank you,” 1,200 feet above the Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center.
Residents were discouraged from gathering at the hospital; rather, the Manassas Regional Airport streamed the flyover live to its Facebook page. The aircraft flew over Historic Downtown to the water tower, and headed toward the main entrance of the hospital and emergency room entrance at around 1:00.
The flyover was all thanks to community member Edie Clark, who has been volunteering at the medical center since 2015. She visits patients with her “comfort cart,” which is fully stocked with back scratchers, puzzle books, and notebooks. Clark keeps them company if they’d like and she says she enjoys listening to their stories. Her father was a doctor and brought her along to the hospital when she was a girl. She said “it just made sense” to volunteer for a hospital because she grew up watching the positivity that outside visitors brought to the patients.
Her comfort cart is parked for now: the Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center stopped accepting volunteers in mid-March. “So much about the nurses and the techs and the people who clean the rooms and the people who greet the visitors there…I just miss them all. I love them,” Clark said.
Inspired by the Navy and Air Force flyover in April, Clark remembered Manassas had an airport of its own and reached out to the Manassas Regional Airport’s director with her idea. The airport staff later told her they’d received an overwhelming response from pilots who were interested in participating.
Clark wasn’t sure the airport would be able to pull it off for her. “I didn’t know. I mean, that’s a hard thing to coordinate,” she said. “And so when they did I was just overjoyed. I think I went outside and clapped and jumped up and down! It was wonderful.”
The flyover’s lead pilot Kevin Rychlik runs the Manassas Regional Airport’s flight school. He and his wife have coordinated the Manassas Airshow for the last nine years and had to cancel this year’s show. Rychlik said this was an “awesome opportunity” to get involved with.
“We have an awesome group of pilots here at the Manassas Airport that just love aviation and promoting aviation, but on top of that when you can mix it with saluting our heroes and our healthcare workers – it’s just awesome,” he said.
The airport had several meetings with the FAA to work out the logistics. The pilots had multiple safety briefings (from at least six feet away from one another) and had one last safety check at 12:30 Wednesday. The first set of five planes took off at 12:50.
“I have a lot of friends in the medical industry and I can’t tell you – I admired them before this but now the level of respect and admiration for just staying there and the sacrifices they and their families are making are just incredible,” said Rychlik.
“Please just let these wonderful people at our hospital know that we really care about them and we just love them,” Clark said. “This was just the seed that I planted but I am so grateful to the airport, the pilots, and of course, the heroes at the hospital.”
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