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“Help Our Fellow Citizens,” Says Pilot Who Flew First Wuhan Evacuation

  • Dr. Juk "J." Ting is a Boeing 747 pilot for Kalitta Air and an emergency medical doctor at City of Hope. He flew the first coronavirus-related evacuation chartered by the State Department. Photo courtesy of Ting.

  • Dr. Juk "J." Ting is a Boeing 747 pilot for Kalitta Air and an emergency medical doctor at City of Hope. He flew the first coronavirus-related evacuation chartered by the State Department. Photo courtesy of Ting.

  • Dr. Juk "J." Ting is a Boeing 747 pilot for Kalitta Air and an emergency medical doctor at City of Hope. He flew the first coronavirus-related evacuation chartered by the State Department. Photo courtesy of Ting.


Alhambra , CA

Dr. Juk “J.” Ting is a staff physician practicing emergency medicine and an assistant clinical professor at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte. He is also a Boeing 747 pilot for a freight company, Kalitta Air, which flew coronavirus-related State Department evacuations.

He and several pilots immediately volunteered  to fly the first evacuation flight when they got emails from the company at the end of January, asking for volunteers to get people out of Wuhan on Jan. 29.

“I can’t imagine being in that situation. You’re trapped in a city: there’s no medical care and you can’t get out. How horrible is that?” Ting continues, “we’re talking about no food, no water, no supportive system in place and you’re trapped. I’d certainly like to get people out of there.”

Ting is one of four pilots who flew over 200 people, including 195 evacuees, State Department officials and medical personnel from Wuhan city, Hubei province, China to Anchorage, Alaska.

The pilots were then relieved by four others in Alaska, the plane was refueled and went on to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif., where the evacuees were the first group of Americans to undergo federal quarantine.

The Boeing 747 – also known as a 747 or jumbo jet – is designed as both a passenger airliner and a cargo plane. A freighter 747 equipped with seats and medical equipment was fitted for the evacuation. The freight 747’s upper deck and cockpit is isolated from the lower cargo deck.

“We were completely sealed off during the passenger loading and unloading. [..] Being in the medical field, I can tell if it’s a Hollywood separation or a medical separation,” Ting says.

Because it was a freight plane and not originally intended for passengers, some safety precautions and pressurization is different, according to Ting. They flew “low and slow,” to protect the passengers’ health and oxygen levels in case of depressurization, for 12 hours from Hubei to Alaska, switching between pairs of captains and first officers during the flight.

Why would the State Department charter a freighter instead of a passenger plane?

“Do you know how difficult that is to clean?! I mean, there are just so many potential places that cannot be cleaned. [… A cargo plane] with seats in there, medical equipment in there, it can be easily cleaned, easily taken apart. When all these other countries use passenger airplanes I’m thinking, ‘Wow, how are you going to clean all those spaces? The bins, the carpet?’”

Even though Ting is an emergency medical doctor, his mission with Kalitta Air on this particular day was to ensure everyone got out of Wuhan safely. He did no medical evaluations nor was he involved in the screening of passengers.

As more people around the country are diagnosed with or recovering from COVID-19, there is a need to care for their health.

Ting brings up the February protests to house coronavirus patients at Fairview Development Center in Costa Mesa, Orange County, Calif. and says it’s terrible that the protesters don’t want to help fellow citizens.

“You’re living in the comfort of your own home, and these people need a place to go. Hey, if they need a room from my house to accommodate patients, sure take a room – take two! And I’d take them into my home until they get better,” he says.

As recently as Thursday, March 12, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order, allowing “the state to commandeer hotels and medical facilities to treat coronavirus patients and permits government officials to hold teleconferences in private without violating open meeting laws,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Throughout the conversation Ting stresses the importance of treating others with kindness.

Ting spent the first 14 years of his life in Taiwan and says the difference in the school systems is what gave him this outlook.

In Taiwan, Ting says, the students are expected to conform. When he moved to Orange, Virginia, his high school and community college teachers encouraged him to learn and find his interests.

When it comes to the coronavirus, Ting is obviously in disbelief that there are some out there who don’t want to bring those with the virus into their community for care. He says, “Don’t panic, and help out fellow citizens. Don’t go protesting. […] Let’s lend a helping hand. You go to church every Sunday, and this is the best decision you can make on Monday morning?”

Ting’s Mondays can vary widely from week to week. Some weeks he’s at City of Hope while in others he’s flying, which he learned to do during his residency at the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his pilot’s license in 1997; commercial license in 2000. Ting has held a range of flying jobs, all while working as an emergency medical doctor, including KNX 1070 traffic report and United Express.

Now he works in two-week rotations between Kalitta Air and City of Hope. Kalitta’s work isn’t usually medical rescues. According to Ting they have a range of jobs; cherries out of Chile, lobster from Canada to China or cargo for the government and other airlines.

“A little airplane and a little hospital, now big hospital, big plane,” he goes on to explain, “it brought me happiness. I think there are a few things that I learned in life; if you find something that you’re happy doing you never have to work a day in your life.”

Whether it’s saving lives or flying planes, being paid is just a happy bonus for Ting. These coronavirus evacuations happened to be both.

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