Flying Samaritans raise awareness of the need for special surgical care in Baja

As the health care debate continues here in the US, one local charity is raising awareness of the ongoing need for specialty surgical care to serve a desperate need outside our borders.

On Saturday, Sept. 16, the Flying Samaritans will host a charity golf tournament at the Paso Robles Golf Club to benefit the Gold Coast Chapter and its mission of providing specialty surgical care to the underserved people of San Quintín, Baja.

For over 50 years, the Flying Samaritans have been providing health care and education to the underserved rural communities of Baja California, Mexico. Through the generosity of sponsors and volunteers, and a cooperative agreement with the University of Baja California, the Flying Samaritans have improved the lives of the migrant labor population, who would have otherwise gone without access to primary and specialty care.

As a professional aviator, and now president of the local Gold Coast Chapter of the Flying Samaritans, Richard Wallis has flown all over the country and the world.

“In all my travels,” Willis said, “it has never ceased to amaze me how generous and compassionate the American people are to those less fortunate than themselves.”

Willis took that drive for compassion in search of an aviation-based charity where he could use his professional skills to give back to the community.

“I was surprised to find such an opportunity right here on the central coast, the Flying Samaritans.”

The Flying Samaritans are an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which operates specialty surgical clinics in Baja California, Mexico. They are doctors, dentists, nurses, translators, students, pilots and support personnel who provide their services and time, free of charge.

It began in 1961, after noted American female aviator Aileen Saunders Mellott, departed from La Paz, Baja, bound for San Diego was grounded by severe weather and wind. Mellott put the plane down in a clearing on a mesa outside the village of El Rosario, where they landed safely just ahead of a dust storm.

They found the people of the village impoverished and without regular medical care. Once safely back in San Diego, Mellott and others began collecting donations for a return relief flight to Baja. On the Saturday before Christmas 1961, an armada of single engine planes departed Gillespie Field, San Diego bound for the Baja, every one loaded with toys, food, clothing and good will. Among the volunteers was doctor Dale E. Hoyt, who started to administer health care to the local village people, conducting the first clinic in the home of Doña Anita Espinosa.

And so was born The Flying Samaritans, which has grown to become an international organization with over 1,500 members and 10 chapters, serving 19 clinics and over 250,000 patients since its inception.

The Flying Samaritans have four basic missions – providing primary medical care, speciality surgical medical care, promoting education and training to medical students, and providing emergency medical assistance and humanitarian disaster relief.

The Gold Coast Chapter is the only one to provide specialty surgical care and are looking to add dentistry and family practice. It mentors a group of local high school students, The Junior Samaritans (, who have worked extremely hard to raise funds and build a family practice clinic at the Hospital El Buen Pastor.

A typical Flying Samaritan’s mission consists of a three day event. Local volunteers depart the central coast early Friday morning and fly directly to Ensenada, where they clear Mexican Customs and Immigration, before continuing 100 miles south, down the pacific coast of Baja, to San Quintín, landing at the private, 4000 foot head surfaced airstrip, of the Los Pinos Packing Company.

The Medical Volunteers hit the ground running. It is not uncommon to arrive at the Hospital El Buen Pastor to find the waiting room full to over flowing with patients, many of whom have walked many miles to see the Doctor. Friday afternoon is taken up with triage and if time permits, a few surgical cases.

Saturday is a full day of surgical cases. “It amazes me how our volunteer medical staff, many of whom are working together for the very first time, manage to pull off this highly specialized, very complicated sympathy of surgical cases,” said Wallis. “The Doctors, Nurses, translators and support staff all work tirelessly to make sure they can complete as many cases as possible in the limited time available, and will continue until all scheduled patents have been seen.

“Sunday morning is taken up with post operative care for those patents who stayed overnight, before our volunteers depart for home, arriving back on the Central Coast mid afternoon.”

For more information on how you can become a sponsor or member of the Flying Samaritans, please visit their website at

Richard Wallis

President Flying Samaritans Gold Coast Chapter