Soaring smiles at Fly Day

EVERETT – The blue sky became a playground Saturday.

Children went up in single-engine airplanes from Paine Field in Everett. For 20 minutes or so, they cruised in the sunny sky, looking down at the sparkling water. They smiled big.

And they got a taste of expanding their abilities.

About 125 children with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses had a chance to ride planes at Challenge Air for Kids and Friends’ Fly Day at the Snohomish County’s airport Saturday.

“It helps them experience something that the rest of the community takes for granted,” said Darcy Doyle, who teaches special needs students at nonprofit Northwest’s Child in Lynnwood.

Most of the children were from Snohomish County. Pilots donated their time; about 125 people also volunteered, said Lonna Gibson, a spokeswoman for the event.

Saturday was the first time that Challenge Air for Kids and Friends was held in Washington. The event, which started in 1993 in Dallas, has taken more than 22,500 children with disabilities up into the air in 21 states.

“It’s really about building their self-esteem and confidence,” Gibson said.

Garrett Moore of Mill Creek signed up for the event more than six weeks ago, his mother, Debbie Krenzler, said.

On Saturday, Garrett, 14, woke up around 5 a.m. and bugged his mother to go to the airport.

“He was ready to go,” Krenzler said, chuckling.

Around 10 a.m., Garrett stepped in a small airplane at Paine Field. He sat next to pilot Randall Sittner. The Whidbey Island man said that his own son has survived three open-heart surgeries.

Garrett peppered Sittner with questions.

“Which button do you push?” Garrett asked.

Sittner showed the button to push first. He started the engine; the propeller began spinning.

“Are you ready?” Sittner asked.

“Yes,” Garrett said. “Go!”

The airplane took off. As it went up, Garrett saw everything – homes, roads, boats and cars – get smaller and smaller.

At one point, Garrett turned around and beamed at his mother in the back seat. She took out a camera and captured his smile.

When the airplane returned to the airport, people cheered and clapped.

“So what did you think?” Krenzler asked her son.

“I thought it was great,” Garrett said.

After stepping off the airplane, Garrett was given a pin and a certificate.

Garrett and Sittner hugged each other and parted.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or

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