Last week, on Feb. 19, Vandervlugt was killed while flying a Corpus Christi family to a skiing trip in Colorado. On Tuesday, March 6, at 11 a.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Corpus Christi, his friends, students and family will gather from around the world to pay tribute to his life. His friend of 30 years, Father Robert Johnston, will preside over the service.
The owner and operator of Vanair Aviation at Refugio County Airport, Hans maintained seven aircraft at the airport including the twin-engine Cessna 414 that went down in Colorado.
During his 40-year long career as a commercial pilot, Hans accumulated more than 70,000 hours in the air. But he began flying long before he was old enough to have a career.
“Hans flew when he was 10,” said his wife Ruth. “His dad had an airplane.”
By the age of 14, he was flying gliders and five years later, he earned his pilot’s license. At 20, he was inducted into the Royal Dutch military and received a commission as an officer in the Dutch Air Force.
“Hans learned to fly jets during his training in the Dutch Air Force in Holland and in Canada,” Ruth said.
After his discharge from the Air Force, he flew in the vast Canadian North Country with various commercial companies and as an independent bush pilot flying hunters, fishermen and businessmen.
In 1962, Hans accepted a position as a pilot in Africa, at times, at great risk to his life.
His next job involved delivering aircraft to Europe from the United States.
“He made 169 Atlantic crossings and 123 were in single-engine aircraft,” Ruth said.
Ruth Hadge met her future husband, Hans, in Miami, Fla., in 1968. They were married April 4, 1971.
“He was the love of my life,” Ruth said.
The couple settled in Refugio in 1972 to manage the county airport. Their two sons, John Vandervlugt and Billy Michelson, completed school in Refugio.
Through the years, Hans’ commitment to the community and his neighbors never faltered. The pilot always assisted those who needed urgent health care.
Hans flew a patient waiting for a heart transplant to the hospital at 1 a.m. to receive his new heart.
On another occasion, fog prevented an air ambulance from flying to Refugio to transport a severely burned youngster in Refugio to a burn center.
Hans flew the boy to Galveston to the Shriner’s Hospital.
“He was experienced in instrument flying,” said longtime aviator and friend, James Henry.
At one point when Refugio was isolated as a result of torrential rain from a hurricane, Hans flew the County Press editor to Victoria to have the paper published.
His expertise was respected by those with whom he flew and those he taught.
“People were always teasing him about flying airplanes like he put on his pants,” Ruth said. “He was such a natural.”
Frank Rose and Bert Van Dermeer, Hans’ student pilots from Holland, will return to Refugio for the memorial service, as will other students from across the county. Like his Dutch students, many made flying aircraft a career.
“Hans wanted others to experience the joy he felt from flying,” Ruth said.