Pilot J.D. Money towed a banner 5-foot high by 75 feet long and had this view of Sharp Grossmont Hospital staff gathered on parking garage.
J.D. Money, flying a 5-by-75-foot banner, had this view of Sharp Grossmont Hospital staff on parking garage. Photo by J.D. Money

J.D. Money gave a free tow Friday. But it was for a good cause.

The pilot-owner of Money Aerial Media flew over five San Diego area hospitals, with a trailing 75-foot sign that said “THANK YOU SD HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS!”

He led a flock of 14-15 planes, ending at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa — three groups spaced apart per Federal Aviation Administration guidance.

“They changed my route at the last minute,” said the pilot based at Gillespie Field. “The FAA had a problem or something.”

But his 1941 Piper Cub J5’s pass over 100 hospital staffers on Parking Garage 2 at Sharp Grossmont “was probably the most people that I saw,” Money said.

United Airlines pilot Phil Kendro of Rancho Bernardo helped organize the fly-over, inspired by private pilot and Scripps Green nurse Doreen Freedman.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t as tight of a timeline,” Kendro said, noting that some planes had battery issues and changed plans. Retired Marine Kendro, whose wife is a radiology nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital, flew a Mooney.

Rumors flew that the fly-over was canceled or grounded, Kendro confirmed, plus an errant story that the planes would do aerobatics.

“That got some people’s hair on the back of their neck going,” he said. “We don’t do aerobatics over central San Diego.”

Story continues below

Instead the groups did straight and level formations, keeping safely above the right altitudes, he said.

“We just changed basically what was going to be the spread of the different aircraft, and we changed a little of the routing and timing to make it just a little bit drawn out more. … Just to make them feel happier,” he said of the FAA.

Kendro and Money said they saw the healthcare workers waving at them.

“With that nice open canopy … it is very easy for us to see the people on the ground,” Kendro said. “It was great that the local FAA was very supportive and helpful.”

Despite the fact a third group of planes arrived at Sharp Grossmont after many hospital workers went back to work, staff was pleased by the display.

“What a fun distraction for our staff to be able to go out into the warm sunshine to witness a sincere act of gratitude for the work they are all doing,” said Colleen Murphy, a longtime nurse and a Sharp Grossmont manager.

“The community may not realize how important their gestures of thankfulness are to the women and men caring for our patients. They are reignited and inspired when they are told thank you, or even witness a ‘virtual hug from the community.”

The La Mesa hospital has COVID-19 patients, but Murphy said staff helping with strokes, heart attacks and “all the other ‘normal’ needs and emergencies” appreciate community gratitude.

“It makes such a big difference in keeping them inspired and realizing that their work is truly meaningful … making a difference for the people of San Diego,” she said. “We are delivering babies, and setting broken bones as well as caring for those critically ill patients!”

Colleen Murphy, a Sharp Grossmont Hospital veteran nurse and manager, records the event atop parking garage.
Colleen Murphy, a Sharp Grossmont Hospital veteran nurse and manager, records the event atop parking garage. Photo by Ken Stone

Kristen McBurney of El Cajon, a teacher at Magnolia Elementary School, brought her Shih Tzu dog Higbee Elias Thorne to the roof of the parking garage.

“We were there today in support of my sister, Denise McBurney, who works for Patient Access Services (36 years!) and my son’s girlfriend, Danielle, who works in the Emergency Room,” said McBurney, whose son also worked at the hospital for five years and now is a firefighter.

The fly-over was originally touted as featuring 25 planes, so McBurney, 52, said she was “a little” disappointed.

“I had hoped it would be ‘grander’ because they definitely deserve it, but I appreciate the pilots who were there,” she said.

Her overall impression was positive, though.

“I think everything anybody is doing is awesome,” she said via email. “The idea was really cool, maybe not so much the execution. It was nice to see all the hospital workers out there, but it was sort of anticlimactic.”

Sharp administrative liaisons manager Murphy happened to see the straggler planes, which she called “a fun encore.”

“I think any expression of thanks means a lot,” she said. “Especially when you consider what time and trouble it took to pull this off.”