With the nation’s birthday just days away, Children’s Hospital Central California received a special birthday present of its own a little early.
Aircrew of the Strike Fighter Squadron 192 (VFA-192) – also known as “The World Famous Golden Dragons” – from Naval Air Station Lemoore conducted a flyover with two of their FA-18 fighter jets at Children’s Hospital on June 27. The event celebrated Children’s 60th anniversary later this year of providing high-quality, specialized pediatric care for the region.
“Children’s Hospital has provided incredible care for our kids across the Central Valley and countless Navy families over the past 60 years,” said Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, executive officer, VFA-192, who served as one of the flyover pilots along with Lcdr. Kyle Jason. “This flyover is a small way of saying thank you and showing our support and gratitude for the skilled and compassionate team at Children’s.”
The jet duo soared about 1,000 feet over the Hospital, where a crowd of smiling patient families and staff gathered behind the Hospital near the playground. Many of them waved small American flags toward the sky. Some onlookers viewed the flyby from inside, through windows facing the rear of the building.
“I heard the rumble of their engines and then suddenly, there they were!” said Mark Winters of Fresno while visiting his 3-year-old nephew undergoing treatment at Children’s. “It went fast, like most flybys do – but that’s how they roll!”
“It was fun,” said Mary Watkins of Visalia, whose teenage sister has been a patient at Children’s. “It was such a nice thing of the Navy to do.”
Emily Bernal of Tulare, whose grandchild needed treatment in Children’s emergency department, said, “The flyby was cool. It’s a good thing you (the Hospital) are here.”
“It was amazing to see, especially for the little kids,” agreed inpatient Gabby Donato, 16, of Fresno.
VFA-192 completed the flyby while en route to a training mission in preparation for the squadron’s upcoming exercise aboard the USS John C. Stennis. The Federal Aviation Administration and the US Navy approved the flyover.
“We are honored to have VFA-192 conduct this very special event,” said Todd Suntrapak, Children’s Hospital executive vice president and chief operating officer. “The Naval Air Station Lemoore is an important part of the community we serve, and the Hospital and our patients appreciate the efforts of VFA-192 and the US Navy.”
The flyover is one of several recent events with VFA-192 and the Hospital. Initially inspired by the treatment his young daughter received at Children’s, Bernacchi brought about a dozen members of his squadron to visit the Hospital’s Craycroft inpatient unit in May. The squadron also hosted five outpatients from Children’s and their families to tour NAS Lemoore on June 28.
“The flyby was an amazing and humbling gesture from the Lemoore base and an example of the type of community we live in where everyone recognizes the importance of children and gets off the sidelines to contribute in their own special way,” said Dr. Robert Kezirian, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s, and University of California, San Francisco-Fresno pediatric program director.
Upon hearing that VFA-192’s flyover put a smile on many children’s faces, Bernacchi smiled himself: “Mission accomplished!”