South Mississippi Strong: Pass Christian pilot uses plane to fly the sick and needy for free
PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - In his quiet, cottage style home in Pass Christian, Ernest Burdette spends his time scrolling through his iPad before embarking on another mission.
Burdette is a pilot for Mercy Flight, a volunteer charity organization of pilots who use their own planes, fuel and time to fly sick and needy people around the country for medical treatment. This is all at no cost to the patient. Transporting others is how he spends his free time.
"That appealed to me. I thought it was something that I wanted to do, and as I got into it I found out, yes indeed, this is something that I want to do," Burdette explained about why he decided to join the organization.
His first flight was in 2000, and now 18 years into it and nearly 100 flights later, Burdette says he knows that he has found his life's calling.
"I like to help people, and most of us do. But, if I could find a way to help people and fly at the same time, then that's a true win-win because it gives me, frankly, another excuse to fly, but a better than most of the excuses that I come up with," added Burdette.
He became a pilot late in life when he was 55 years old but says that flying is in his blood. His father was a bomber pilot in World War 2. The flights he makes may not be remembered in the history books, but they are just as purposeful.
"[I] Always come back feeling...every mission these people you know, they make me feel good," he added.
Recently he spent some time performing missions in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands after Hurricane Maria delivering medical supplies and taking people back to the states for emergency medical treatment.
In his many years up in the clouds, he says he'll never forget the day he flew a little boy who needed a serious brain operation.
"I realized you're making a difference in this child's life and in the family's life because he, if all goes well, will be able to at some point begin to develop normally and become and live a normal childhood, a normal life," said Burdette.
It's often said that not all heroes wear capes, but Ernest Burdette says he doesn't even want to wear the title.
When asked after all of the missions he's been on, if he considers himself to be a hero or if his actions are heroic, he didn't seem to think so.
"No, I don't think of myself as a hero at all but just someone who is fortunate enough to have resources and good health to allow me to do these things with the planes that I have. It's a blessing to me that's how I look at it," Burdette said.
Burdette says he's just paying it forward by using the things he's been blessed with to help others here in South Mississippi and elsewhere.
Burdette recently won the Mississippi Pilot of the Year award, but he says there is a shortage of pilots in Mississippi. He believes that if more people in Mississippi became pilots, the impact it would have on Mercy Flight would be significant.
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