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AMS Fixed-wing volunteer pilot retires after 18 years of service

Doctor by profession, volunteer pilot in his spare time, retires after nearly two decades of volunteer flying: Dr Johan Steytler, an anaesthetist by profession at a private practice in the northern suburbs of Cape Town has retired as an AMS volunteer fixed-wing pilot after nearly two decades (18 years) of dedicated service to help those in need.

The SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS), a non-profit aero-medical rescue organisation relies on a group of volunteer fixed-wing pilots to transport critically ill and injured patients via the Pilatus PC 12 emergency air ambulance service. The PC 12 aircraft is a fully equipped 24-hour custom-designed air ambulance with a dedicated medical intensive care-type interior.

The AMS has more than 55 years of experience in the aero-medical sector, working in partnership with the various Provincial Departments of Health to strengthen the National Health System through the provision of rescue, air ambulance and rural health outreach services. The AMS is the only aero-medical operator in Southern Africa which offers a complete package of the air ambulance, health outreach and rescue services.

Dr Steytler’s journey with the AMS started during the early 1990s as a volunteer medical doctor onboard the AMS emergency aircraft. He held a private pilot’s license since 1986. “I always had a keen interest in aviation. The professional aviation exposure as a medical crew member inspired me to complete my commercial pilot’s license in 1995 while I was working as a registrar in anaesthesia (specialist training) at Tygerberg Hospital” Dr Steytler explained. “My first flight as an observer pilot with the AMS was in December 2003 with Captain Frans Grotepass. I joined AMS in 2008, first as a volunteer co-pilot and then as Captain. From August 2004 to November 2022, I flew as Captain,” he added.

Dr Steytler has flown more than eight different PC 12 aircraft, completed 600 flying missions and has obtained approximately 1600 flying hours flying to 30 different destinations in Southern Africa. This includes approximately 35 operational car light landings at unlit airfields for mercy night missions. “We admire Dr Steytler's passion and commitment to the AMS's mission of saving the lives of those in need. May your legacy inspire young pilots, those in our system, and South Africans to follow in your footsteps of selfless service,” said AMS CEO Farhaad Haffejee.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity made possible by my contribution/work as a volunteer with AMS. It took me to different locations in Southern Africa during the day and night and allowed me to be a part of all the complexity, care, and emotion that comes with inter-healthcare facility transfers of critically ill patients. It was a privilege and an incredible journey," Dr Steytler added.

When asked what he plans on doing going forward he replied saying "the future for me will hopefully be more flying albeit not with an AMS PC12 aircraft. I recently completed my FAA foreign validation of my South African pilot's license in the United States. This enabled me to fly an aircraft from the south of the United States to various destinations before continuing on to Oshkosh (Wisconsin), the world's largest annual "fly-in" event (bucket list things). As a result, my retirement as an AMS pilot does not imply that I am going to stop flying. On the contrary, it will allow me more free time, I am already planning a couple of flying trips in Southern Africa and abroad. I will also continue practising as an anaesthetist for a few more years” Dr Steytler concluded.

The AMS wishes to thank Dr Steytler for his willingness to serve on the volunteer fixed-wing pilot committee. Dr Steytler has shown compassion, integrity, and professionalism in his service to the AMS and the people of our country. We wish you many more safe flights as you travel the world.

The AMS was founded in 1966 by the South African Red Cross Society and became an independent Trust in 1994. The AMS is a non-profit aero-medical organisation with active operational bases in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape that provides an air ambulance network, outreach, and emergency rescue services. The AMS has grown into a comprehensive aero-medical service with a unique service delivery model, utilising volunteers, professionals and strong partnerships with the Departments of Health, not-for-profit organisations, and the private sector to facilitate access to appropriate healthcare services for both critically ill or injured persons and those requiring specialist medical expertise, particularly from remote rural areas.



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