It was the loss of her legs that helped Mei Hua Huang get her wings.
But she had to leave China and come to Pitt Meadows to get them.
Now 19, Mei Hua’s legs were crushed when her school collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which killed almost 70,000 and left another 18,000 missing.
Her rescue came in a helicopter, and it left her with a special feeling for being up in the sky.
Despite the loss of her legs, Mei Hua hopes to one day have prosthetic legs that would allow her to become a pilot.
Her school principal has advocated for one of his top students, and had asked numerous flight schools in China to offer a flight experience.
But only Island Coastal Aviation in Pitt Meadows took up the cause. The flight training centre based at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport sponsored her to take an introductory flying program in March.
She took three weeks of flight training, compete with aviation theory, flight simulator training, and eventually piloting an aircraft under the guidance of an instructor.
Mei Hua’s odyssey was highlighted during an event in her honour on Thursday, March 31. As consulate officials from China’s office in Vancouver watched, Mei Hua took off in a float plane from the Fraser River, and was at the controls for a flight.
She has enjoyed her time in Pitt Meadows, aside from just the aviation experience.
“It showed me how warmhearted the people are – Canadians are,” she said. “It taught me if you have a dream you should go for it, and maybe someday it will come true.”
She remembers her first flight, and learning from experience that even a subtle movement of the plane’s controls could mean a big movement of the plane. One of her passengers on that first flight quickly turned white, she said with a laugh. But her next flight was much better.
“She’s pretty good with the plane,” said instructor Cristian Sepulveda, adding that she can turn it on, take off, climb and descend, but is not yet able to land.
“She’s awesome – a great kid, with lots of energy,” Sepulveda said.
The flight school held a special graduation for her.
“Today we witness Mei Hua making her dream, flying, come true,” said James Wu, the COO of Island Coastal Aviation. “Today is a graduation ceremony for her, to celebrate this young, brave lady taking off in the blue sky of Canada.”
Mei Hua was exciting and happy to see so many people care about her.
She is a frequent public speaker and a leader at her school. She is returning to China to finish Grade 12.
However, she has been accepted into UBC, and hopes to one day become a physician – she doesn’t intend to fly as a career.
“I’m grateful to the doctors and nurses who took good care of me when I was in the hospital,” she said. “I want to be a doctor not just to save lives – to saves lives is easy. But also to save hearts.”