Utah County pilots perform unique Christmas Eve rescue

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SPANISH FORK — On Christmas Eve, as a couple thousand flights were canceled across the country, many eager holiday travelers discovered they would not make it home for Christmas. Realizing this predicament for so many passengers, a couple of pilots in Utah County used their skills to help in an unexpected way.

The Patey brothers live to fly. When they took off from Utah Friday afternoon, they were delivering an extraordinary gift to a young couple they didn't even know.

"If Christmas isn't about reuniting families, then I don't know what it is," Mark Patey said.

Mike and Mark Patey fly search and rescue missions for Utah County. They've done that for 15 years, and have even built a plane specially designed for rescue missions.

"It's been our greatest reward in life: reuniting families that were lost in the mountains, or on a cliff, and bringing them back home," Mike Patey said. "So, reuniting families is something that we've had a passion for forever."

The twin brothers put their passion into action Christmas Eve. They posted on social media that they were ready and able to fly families out of Utah, or fly people back to Utah in their private passenger plane.

"We were waiting at the airport for something to come together. We were search and rescue ready," Mark said.

At the same time, Brecca and Sergio Ponce were at Los Angeles International Airport, where their flight back to Utah had just been canceled.

"We were kind of stranded at LAX," Brecca said.

The couple was traveling and celebrating their anniversary, and excited about being home with family in Utah for Christmas. They haven't done that for three years and had given up on making it home when a friend shared the post from the pilots.

Mike and Mark Patey flew to California to pick up a couple and bring them home in time for Christmas.
Mike and Mark Patey flew to California to pick up a couple and bring them home in time for Christmas. (Photo: Family photo)

At first, they didn't believe it was real. So, Brecca reached out to Mike.

"They responded within three minutes, and said, 'Hey, we can probably make that work and come get you,'" she said.

"We just jumped in the plane, I mean, we had this engine fired up and running in about 10 minutes, knowing that we had someone to go get," Mark said.

Within a few hours, they were picking up their passengers and bringing them back to Utah.

"I just couldn't believe it," Sergio said. "The whole time we were flying from LA to Utah in their plane, I just couldn't believe it."

They had resigned themselves to missing out on Christmas at home. Instead, they were flying home like VIPs.

"It was probably the coolest thing that's happened to us. We keep calling it a Christmas miracle," Brecca said.

"If you have the opportunity to help, you help. And, when you're in need, you can trust that there are good people out there that will take care of you," Mark said.

It's something their parents instilled in them as kids.

"If you've been blessed with a talent, or a gift or resources, you better give it back, or you don't you don't deserve to have it anymore," said Mike.

Brecca and Sergio said it was like a dream — they can hardly believe that it actually happened.

The Pateys are simply grateful to help out with a Christmas miracle.


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Jed Boal


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