Updated: Aug 8
July 21, 2023 - Two cousins. One Engine. One Mission. Rotary Club of Pago Pago is proud to have played a small part in The Flight to End Polio this week. A Cessna landed in American Samoa on Tuesday July 18th piloted by Peter Teahen and John Ockenfels who are within days of completing their goal of circumnavigating the globe in a single engine aircraft.
The pair have undertaken this incredible journey to raise awareness for polio eradication so that efforts will continue to end this disabling and life-threatening disease forever. Both Peter and John are pilots, Rotarians, and members of the Fellowship of Flying Rotarians.
Their journey, dubbed The Flight To End Polio, is chronicled in detail on their official website where they write, "Polio eradication has been a primary focus of Rotary for over 35 years and continues to be a major initiative. While the end of polio may be near, no child anywhere is safe until every child has been vaccinated."
The pair left Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 5, 2023 in a Cessna T210M (single engine) airplane outfitted with extra fuel tanks. Along the way, they have stopped in dozens of countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Oceania to promote ending the disabling and life-threatening disease of polio forever throughout the world. The mission will continue through Hawai'i and finish in North America, where it first began, within two weeks.
The small plane landed in American Samoa Tuesday July 18th at approximately 5:00 p.m. The pilots were met on the tarmac by a 7-person delegation from the Rotary Club of Pago Pago. The pilots were greeted and presented with cultural gifts before being driven to their hotel by Rotarian Chris Brown to layover awaiting the 100 octane aviation fuel required by their plane.
The next morning, Rotarian Joey Cummings drove Peter and John to meet local journalist Monica Miller at 93KHJ radio. Monica wrote two articles about the Flight to End Polio. The stories are published here and here on Talanei.com. You can also listen to the full 10-minute radio interview here.
After the interview, the pilots began inquiring about local technicians who might assist in the repair of their airplane's HF radio. By a stroke of good fortune, a pair of Amateur Radio experts visiting American Samoa on a Ham Radio Expedition were having an interview in the 93KHJ studio next door to Monica's office. After a quick introduction, James Gallo and Hal Turley accompanied Peter and John to the airport where they were able to successfully troubleshoot the radio. Hal detailed this encounter on his Facebook page.
As of Wednesday morning, it wasn't clear when John and Peter's fuel would be released from the customs holding facility. Fearing they would leave before Rotary Club of Pago Pago's weekly Friday meeting, 8 club members gathered to treat the pilots to lunch at A&E Cafe on Wednesday. Stories and fellowship ensued and fun was had by all. As lunch wrapped up, a call from Pritchard Aviation Services verified that the fuel would be released on Friday afternoon leaving the pair free to explore Tutuila for two more days.
Rotary President (Queen) Cherith Soliai arranged a loaner car for Peter and John. Over the course of Thursday and Friday, they explored the far flung corners of Tutuila and published this video on the Flight to End Polio YouTube channel.
On Friday July 21, 2023, Peter and John were guests of the Rotary Club of Pago Pago at their weekly meeting held at the Sadie's by the Sea clubhouse. There, they made a formal presentation regarding their mission and highlighted some of their global adventure.
"What started as mission has really become a spiritual journey," said Peter Teahen as he recounted his time distributing polio vaccinations in Karachi, Pakistan. "So many people think that polio is gone but it's not. That's why we're doing this. Unless we follow through and eradicate polio completely within the next 10 years, we could see as many as 200,000 new cases around the world each year.
John Ockenfels added, "No child anywhere in the world is safe until we've vaccinated every child."
After their presentation, President Cherith presented Peter and John with Rotary Club of Pago Pago flags and all in attendance signed the Flight to End Polio flags and banner. The flags and banner were signed in purple ink as Peter explained, "As a nod to the practice of marking a baby's finger with purple ink to signify they received the polio vaccination."
Special thanks goes to Rotarian Ziggy Vollrath for making the Rotary Club of Pago Pago aware that the flight was incoming on Tuesday. Otherwise, we may have never known.
Weather permitting, Peter and John are expected to fly non-stop to Hawai’i by Saturday night; a trip that will take approximately16 hours.
According to the pilots, less than 700 people have completed a circumnavigation of the globe in a single-engine plane.
UPDATE: Peter and John landed safely in Honolulu late on Saturday July 22nd after nearly 17 hours.