The idea for Hank’s Flights began, appropriately, on an airplane. Linda Turek was visiting with her brother-in-law, Howard Turek, during a routine flight in early 2014, when the discussion turned to their mutual love of animals. “I’d read an interesting article on no kill shelters and it really hit home,” Linda recalls. “My husband, George, and I have rescued several dogs and cats over the years who have become beloved members of our family. And our grown children, Travis and Jessica, have done the same with their own families. The fact that our sweet rescued pets were essentially on animal death row when we found them was a sobering thought. I began to seriously consider creating a no kill shelter of our own. “
Howard Turek agreed. Later that evening he shared the shelter idea with his wife, Kristi. Kristi Turek grew up raising horses and is a long time animal advocate who has rescued and rehabilitated a variety of pets and wild animals. She immediately got on board and began searching for no kill shelter information on the web. That led her to the concept of animal rescue and relocation. “The ultimate goal is to not only save these animals from being euthanized, but to find them safe and happy homes,” Kristi says. “The more Linda and I talked the more we realized we could make a bigger difference by being involved in both rescue and relocation. The question was how.” The answer, as it turns out, was right in front of them.
Linda’s and Kristi’s husbands, the Turek brothers, were both pilots; George flew A-4s in the Navy during the Vietnam Era and Howard spent decades as a Captain for Spirit Airlines. After George sold his company to a New York Stock Exchange company, he was finally free to indulge in his passion–airplanes. “George worked his butt off and sacrificed a lot to build his company and make a wonderful life for our family,” Linda says. “We both did. It was either golf or airplanes…and he doesn’t play golf.”
For years, George Turek had been volunteering his jet to transport wounded Veterans and their families in association with an organization called Hero Flights. Howard, looking for a change, had left Spirit to become his Chief Pilot. When George upgraded from a Westwind to a larger Falcon 50, Linda and Kristi approached him about using the Westwind as an animal transport plane. “I’d found some great organizations like Mountain Pet Rescue and Pilots and Paws that hooked up volunteer pilots and planes with needy pets,” Kristi recalls. “Linda and I brought the idea to George and he jumped on it right away.”
The Tureks made their first animal rescue and relocation flight in October 2014. With pilots Howard and Mike Weimert in the cockpit and Kristi managing the precious cargo, N518GT left Lonestar Airport in Conroe, Texas for Colorado Springs, Colorado. The mission was a great success and a rescue dog named Chloe was adopted by a loving “furever family.” At that point the Tureks knew they wanted to make this more than just an occasional volunteer mission.
Every family has a special pet, and for George and Linda Turek, that pet was a Golden Retriever named Hank. “Hank was one of the kindest souls,” recalls Linda. “He passed at just ten-years-old from cancer yet his impact on our family was immeasurable. We felt these animal transport missions were an opportunity to honor Hank’s memory. So we began calling them ‘Hank’s Flights.’”
After the first few missions, the Tureks made a decision to expand to a larger scale operation in order to help more animals at a time. “Remember, we are not a charity or a non-profit,” Linda explains. “We pay for these flights out of pocket and jet fuel is expensive. So we wanted to make sure we were making the biggest difference possible with each flight. We connected with Operation Pets Alive (OPA), an organization out of The Woodlands, Texas that organizes mass transport of rescue animals to adopted families. Since then we have flown as many as 54 animals on our plane at once. It has been fantastic.”
Within a matter of a few months, the Tureks removed the seats in the Westwind to maximize space for animal crates. Howard and Kristi commissioned friend and local artist, Ken Hill, to design and paint both the Hank’s Flights lettering and a larger than life image of a smiling Hank on the tail of the Westwind. Several other friends have volunteered to host animals waiting to fly to their new furever families.
For the time being the Tureks are focused on large scale animal transport but they do not intend to limit their missions solely to the furry variety. “Hank loved children and children loved Hank. We intend to do more than just fly animals. We want to help the littlest souls, the helpless and innocent, be they children or puppies. This is all about giving back. This is all about love.”