Rare Samaritan’s Purse DC-8 Cargo Aircraft Airlifts An Emergency Field Hospital to Italy For COVID-19 Pandemic

The Samaritan's Purse DC-8. (Image credit: Samaritan's Purse)

An interesting 52 years old aircraft delivered equipment and medical specialists to Italy to support Covid-19 emergency response.

On Mar. 17, 2020, at 21.18LT a DC-8-60/70, registration N782SP, departed from Greensboro, North Carolina, landed at Verona Villafranca airport, in northeastern Italy. The aircraft, carried 20 tons of medical equipment, a respiratory care unit developed specifically for this response, and 32 disaster relief personnel, including doctors, nurses, and respiratory specialists, who will stay in country for at least a month, sent by Samaritan’s Purse (SP), “a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world”.

The iconic four-engine long-range narrow-body jet airliner produced by Douglas Aircraft Company (then McDonnell Douglas) from 1958 to 1972, was built in 1968 and took service, as a cargo aircraft, in 1969 with Finnair, Finland’s flag airline. It operated with Finnair until 1981, then it was purchased by the French Air Force that flew the DC-8 as F-RAFG until 2004. Samaritan’s Purse started using the aircraft in 2015, initially maintaining the registration N721CX that the plane got in 2005 when it was leased by ATI (Air Transport International). The DC-8 was re-registered with the current N782SP in 2015.

The DC-8 on the ground at Villafranca. (Image: ITAF)

The equipment delivered by the DC-8 will be used to build a 68-bed Emergency Field Hospital (consisting of 60 beds and 8 Intensive Care Units) in Cremona, in Lombardy, the region of northern Italy most hit by Covid-19. The hospital will be set up in the next few hours in the city of Cremona and will be operational for a period of three months, within the health facilities set up to deal with the Coronavirus emergency currently underway.

The unloading of the DC-8 at Villafranca. (Image credit: ITAF)

The aircraft was serviced by the Italian Air Force that ensured the logistical support of the DC-8 and facilitated the airport and customs operations, carried out by a team of the Air Terminal Operation Center and the Gruppo Autotrasporti (Trucking Group) of the local-based 3° Stormo (Wing) along with officials of the Customs Agency, representatives of the Civil Protection and an SP’s advanced team, who had arrived in Italy a few days earlier to carry out a site survey and preparations for the deployment.

The aircraft is equipped with an ADS-B transponder and could be tracked online on ADSBExchange on its way to Italy:

The route of N782SP (Image credit: ADSBExchange).

A second flight is expected in the next few days to complete the structure and integrate the team of specialists. Indeed, the DC-8 is currently on its way back to the U.S.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.