Flying Samaritans

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

For current activities, check the Lions' Club Page


The Flying Samaritans is a group of professionals from many different walks of life interested in helping bring healthcare to people in Mexico. They are physicians, nurses, dentists, pilots, translators and many other people who are non-sectarian in nature. Their bylaws clearly establish the purpose of their organization: to offer medical assistance and education to the people in rural areas of Mexico.

The Foothill Chapter of the Flying SamaritansAll Flying Samaritan Clinics are operated free of charge to the patients. 'Flying Sams' have four basic missions - primary care, specialty care, education and emergency care.

The first mission has Sams flying (and driving) to clinics where they provide non-emergency services, such as family medicine, optometry, audiology, dentistry and dental hygiene, and preventative health care. Most patients are the 60% of the Mexican population who are not eligible for Mexican Social Security medical care. Unless the Sams are working with Mexican doctors, they can only practice in areas where there are no doctors. Sams physicians usually perform surgery only when another doctor is present to provide follow up care.

The second mission, specialty care, is a cooperative effort to provide specialty care at a single location, the Buen Pastor Hospital in San Quintin, where follow up care is available that many clinics cannot provide.

The third mission is education and through this the Flying Sams assist in the training of pasantes, medical and dental graduates interested in additional education.

And lastly, to meet medical emergencies, Sams professionals assist with disasters and critical medical patients.

The Central Valley Chapter of the Flying Samaritans is directly involved with San Felipe.

The history of the Flying Samaritans began on November 16, 1961. While most of San Diego County was socked in by an unaccustomed dust storm prompted by a severe drought, John A. Vietor, owner and publisher of the San Diego Magazine, and Roberta Ridgley, the magazine's editor, took off from La Paz, Baja California, Mexico, in a twin engine Beechcraft piloted by Aileen Saunders, of El Cajon, a noted woman pilot. Accompanying the three were Leah Hanlon, Polly Ross and Frank Zehner, Aileen's seventeen year old son. In those days travel by small plane in Baja was challenging and somewhat dangerous mainly because of three factors. The deceptively soft terrain that often precluded any take off after a forced landing, the absence of any radio equipped airport below Tijuana, and not even the crudest lighting at most landing strips.

Although the weather was good as the group left La Paz, when they landed about three hours later in Bahia de Los Angeles, they encountered a brisk wind and were told there was a rumor of strong winds in the greater Los Angeles area. Vietor, one of the passengers, was anxious to reach San Diego in time to pick up a flight to San Francisco which would enable him to attend a dinner party for Ingrid Bergman. About 45 minutes after taking off from Bahia de Los Angeles they encountered gusty sandstorms that blocked out Tijuana. Failing to pick up either Tijuana or San Diego, Aileen decided to try for a landing in Ensenada. Nearing the airport everything looked good for a landing. Suddenly, within three minutes of landing, the weather closed in completely and they lost sight of the ground as well as the 5,000 to 7,000 foot peaks in the area. They circled to gain altitude, avoiding the peaks and consuming precious fuel. They were finally able to climb out over the storm. At this point, low on fuel and with a thorough knowledge of flying in Baja, Aileen knew there were few landing options. She chose a clearing on the mesa top of a mountain outside the village of El Rosario. Dodging a large pothole they landed safely just ahead of the dust storm.

The area Fish and Game Warden who knew Aileen and had heard the plane circling the village drove up to retrieve them. The town's Mayor permitted them the use of his office which had the single telephone line between El Rosario and Ensenada, although the call did not go through. Acting as interpreter, Anita Espinosa, the proprietor of the local general store who was half Pima Indian and half Italian and who had been educated in a San Diego Mission school, generously offered the group hot chocolate while apologizing for the accommodations.

With prompting she began to tell of the local devastation from the drought and the pitiless existence of the people there. She said she would be grateful for any clothing contributions, especially for the children, and she herself would see that they were distributed. The people of the village were not only impoverished they were not well.

Once safely back in San Diego, having spent the night in the El Rosario area, Aileen, Leah and Polly, all female pilots and members of the "99's", began collecting donations for a return relief flight to Baja. On the Saturday before Christmas of that year, an armada of single engine planes departed Gillespie Field in San Diego bound for Baja, every one loaded to the top with toys, food, clothing and good will. Among the volunteers was a doctor who had his medical bag with him. Once in El Rosario he was mobbed by people needing care and so was born the Flying Samaritans, first dubbed the Flying Angels by the people of El Rosario.

Bahia de Los Angeles
Bahia de Los Angeles

That first doctor was quickly joined by nurses, dentists and other health care providers whose services were so desperately needed. In the early days the trips were made every other week. The government owned Hospital Civil de El Rosario served as the first clinic site. Although it had been virtually abandoned, the Flying Samaritans and the people of El Rosario, working together, soon had a facility from which the people could be seen and treated.

The vision of that first pilot, Aileen Saunders Mellott, who also served as the organization's first President, and her untiring efforts to enlist volunteers, along with her valuable contacts with both U.S. and Mexican officials, facilitated the transport of equipment and supplies necessary to establish the original clinic at El Rosario and, later, the second at Colonet.

The Flying Samaritans currently have 1400 members and are governed by an International Board of Directors with representatives from all eleven chapters. The Flying Samaritans is an organization recognized as exempt under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.



Latest San Felipe Clinic....

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Our next San Felipe clinic will be May 22-25. We will only be performing cataract surgeries this time, no eye glass or optometry clinic. We would like to screen the eye surgery patients Friday afternoon, then perform the surgeries all day on Saturday. We will not be needing anesthesia this time, since Dr. Tesluk will be performing all the procedures under local anesthesia.

CLICK HERE for a Press Release of the Flying Sams' February clinic.

We had our monthly Flying Sams meeting last Wednesday to finalize plans for the upcoming San Felipe ENT/Optometry clinic for next month.  Since we only have 3 pilots/aircraft that are available to fly in February, we can only bring 12 members to this clinic.  We will arrive Friday morning February 15 between 10-11am and depart on Sunday February 17. 

After arrival Friday morning, we would like to perform the ENT screening of patients by Dr. Yates, between 2-6 pm at San Felipe Hospital.  Saturday morning starting at 8am, we would then perform the ENT surgeries and also start seeing the eye glass patients from 8-5pm with Dr. Demshar. 

Dr. Yates can see up to 35 patients at the ENT pre-screening clinic Friday afternoon, and Dr. Demshar can see up to 125 eye glass patients on Saturday.

Walt Schimon MD   President Central Valley Flying Samaritans.