RFDS bequest keeps pilots flying

Mother's RFDS bequest honours pilot son


Life & Style
Jennifer Sibthorpe, pictured with her son Brant Aldhamland. Jennifer visited him in Cairns each Christmas. Photos supplied.

Jennifer Sibthorpe, pictured with her son Brant Aldhamland. Jennifer visited him in Cairns each Christmas. Photos supplied.

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There is a saying that out of tragedy, good can come, which is what has recently happened for the Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland Section.

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There is a saying that out of tragedy, good can come, which is what has recently happened for the Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland Section.

From a mother honouring the dreams of a son killed in tragic circumstances, they now have $800,000 that will be put towards essential pilot training and mentoring.

Eight-and-a-half years ago Brant Aldhamland, a commercial pilot based in Cairns was lost in a plane crash in the Torres Strait during a storm.

It took police divers more than nine months to find the wreckage of the light aircraft the 37-year-old was ferrying cargo with, in 15m of water north of Horn Island.

Very sadly for his family, their only son's body was never found and his dream to fly for the RFDS was not fulfilled.

It was a terrible time for his mother Jennifer Sibthorpe who was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after the crash.

She died last year of her illness but has honoured her son's memory and his dream with her last wishes, bequeathing $800,000 to the medical flight retrieval service.

It's an incredible gesture, RFDS fundraising manager Katherine Ash said.

"Not many people realise that we started as the result of a gift 91 years ago, that allowed John Flynn to buy a plane," she said. "It's a huge commitment for people, who put a lot of thought into what they can leave that will really help."

Ms Sibthorpe's estate will be put into a named endowment fund within the RFDS Foundation, which will bolster the ongoing training of pilots in perpetuity.

It's a critical initiative amid the pilot shortage impacting air travel around the world, and especially valuable in the highly skilled environment that an RFDS pilot works in.

Brant Aldhamland at the controls of his plane.

Brant Aldhamland at the controls of his plane.

Flying solo, landing on dirt strips, landing at night - they are all attributes demanded of someone who has to get medical help in and out of every location when someone's life is in danger.

Ms Ash said they especially wanted to inspire country pilots and people like Mr Aldhamland who wanted to give back to the RFDS.

"Any organisation finds it hard to keep people who want to live in rural areas so a good retention tool is to recruit the ones who have a rural background," she said. "On top of that, our pilots are already exceptionally skilled and we want to keep that up."

The RFDS has 70 pilots on its books. Each of them undertakes the compulsory simulator training every year, at a cost of $15,000 a time.

"It's a very expensive organisation to run, that's why we rely on donations like Jennifer's," Ms Ash said. "Her executor told us it would have given her so much joy to know what her bequest was helping us with."

That person is Jeff Schaffer, who lives with his wife Sandy in Sydney.

They lived streets away from Ms Sibthorpe in Ryde and met thanks to the two women working together for Canadian Aviation Electronics, which specialises in flight simulation.

"She was living alone but moved in with us after her operation," Mr Schaffer said. "All she wanted was a plaque in Brant's memory - we're thrilled she'll be getting so much more than that."

On November 22, Mr Schaffer and Ms Sibthorpe's friends will be flying up to Cairns for the presentation of a commemorative plaque.

Ms Ash said it would give the pilots and staff at the Cairns base a chance to hear about Ms Sibthorpe and her life, and share their thanks for the bequest.

Then out of that, even more goodness can be shared.

Andrew Hotham, one of the pilots currently undergoing the mentorship program out of the RFDS Cairns Base.

Andrew Hotham, one of the pilots currently undergoing the mentorship program out of the RFDS Cairns Base.

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