Fifty lucky children get to fly over New Zealand during a special flight in Boeing 787-9
Lilly Kaahu only had two words to sum up her first time ever on a plane.
On Saturday, alongside her nana, 11-year-old Kaahu got the chance to take her first ever flight – thanks to Koru Care.
Initially started by Air New Zealand volunteers in the 1980s, the charity has since put on flights for more than 2000 children with illnesses or disabilities.
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Kaahu was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that has left her muscles weak. She uses a wheelchair to get around.
But, her nana, Allison Strange, said nothing gets in Lilly's way.
“She will try everything 110 per cent, she's so inspirational to other kids at school.”
Strange was especially grateful for the flight, given Lilly was told last week that she would need to have spinal surgery in Dunedin after being diagnosed with scoliosis.
“That was a bit of bad news, but coming here ... really brightened her day, and she's forgotten all about that.”
Lilly got on the flight after her teacher aid at school nominated her.
“Then we got the phone call saying about this [flight] and yeah we were just over the moon,” Strange said.
“It's something she deserves,” she added. “There's no way that we would've been able to afford any of this.”
Lilly was joined by 49 other children with illnesses or disabilities on Saturday's flight.
Lilly told Stuff before takeoff she was slightly nervous about flying for the first time.
However, moments before landing, she said she got over that.
“As you go further into the flight you start to relax,” Lilly said.
Lilly and her nana recognised the Southern Alps and Wellington during the flight – which had a mystery flight plan.
Departing from Christchurch, Air New Zealand chief pilot David Morgan first steered the Boeing 787-9 aircraft towards the West Coast, before heading up north towards Taranaki.
After flying north, the plane never seemed to follow a straight line again.
The children were told pre-flight that their flight path would draw something in the sky.
Only one clue was given before departure: whatever was drawn could not fly.
By the flight-end, after about two hours in the air, the pilots revealed the creation they had draw as none other than New Zealand's national bird, a Kiwi.
Lilly, who was beaming with happiness during the flight, said the entire day was “really exciting, sometimes nervous, but really really fun.”
Cooper Bradley, 12, was also on Saturday's flight and said the experience was amazing.
“Takeoff was real fun,” he said.
He has severe anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. Cooper constantly has to carry an adrenaline pen because of it.
Cooper said he had spent his time in the air watching the in-flight Scooby-Doo movie, eating food, and relaxing with his mum.
“It's just been amazing, first time I've ever been on a flight this big,” he said.
Mum Sharona Gordon said the flight was an honour and privilege.
“For these kids, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Before takeoff, the children also enjoyed a superhero-themed party, which included face-painting, a silent disco, more food than they could imagine, and a photo opportunity with All Blacks Joe Moody and Sam Cane.
The party on the ground culminated with a surprise concert from Drax Project, who then joined the children for the flight too.
They later handed out lollies as the plane prepared to land.
Also on the flight was Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran, who spent most of the flight mingling with guests and at one point was the bearer of much-appreciated ice blocks.
“[This] flight is a real heart-warmer,” he said.
“Our teams have pulled out all the stops to make today a magical experience for our little heroes.”