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Blind and autistic Kamloops man fulfills bucket list by flying a plane

Patrick O'Neil gets to know the plane he is about to fly.
Image Credit: Tylair Aviation Ltd. via Facebook
June 08, 2015 - 1:02 PM

KAMLOOPS - A 67-year-old British Columbia man who was born blind and autistic has checked off the last item on his bucket list by flying a plane.

Patrick O'Neil has been in care since the age of two, but for the last three years has gone beyond his comfort zone by completing every goal on a growing list.

He has now tackled the last one by flying in, and taking control of, a Cessna 172 at the Tylair Aviation flight school in Kamloops.

O'Neil says last Thursday's ride was smooth and he wasn't afraid of flying the aircraft despite his inability to see.

He started his bucket list after hearing about a similar project from a couple he lives with, who are part of a home-sharing program for people with developmental disabilities.

Selina and Kevin Olsen say the walls of O'Neil's room are covered in photos of his experiences so that he can show others.

“He was sheltered most of his life,” Selina Olsen said.

“He didn’t get to do anything, so, once he started living with us, he started the bucket list and started thinking about all the things he’s never had a chance to do, all the things he’d like to do.”

That list included saving up for his first bike — $1,000 for a tandem he rides with good friend Marlin Brietzke, who accompanied him on the flight along with instructor Tyler Gertzen.

“When he was told to do something, it was slow, nothing fast or erratic, and that plane just followed what he was doing,” Brietzke said.

“It was just beautiful."

The Centre for Seniors Information in Kamloops has helped O'Neil finish his bucket list, arranging both last week's flight and a ride in a helicopter two years ago.

Executive director Brenda Prevost says O'Neil was quiet and withdrawn when he first joined the centre about 3 1/2 years ago, which was around the same time he started his list.

“Since then, he’s just changed so much," she said. "That’s been a really wonderful thing to watch.”

And even though his bucket list is now complete, O’Neil is showing no signs of shutting down his imagination.

He'd still like to ride in a limousine, fly in a float plane and take a sunny vacation — maybe to Cuba.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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