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The Two Lifes of Dr Frank Hettlich - by Dorise Hettlich

Dear Family, dear Friends and dear Patients.

I would like to tell you – especially our patients, who don’t know our family as well – more about my husband, particularly his passion for flying. We have been married 40 years and together ran the practice for 27 years. Many of you will remember how at the end of a treatment session he used to look for the “lady boss” (who happened to not always be there right way…). Our patients liked Dr Hettlich and appreciated his professional competence and his open and happy personality. The many letters, cards and messages on the website have touched me deeply. While in South Africa, I checked the website every two hours to see if new entries had appeared. I cried when I read them – but they really helped and I enjoyed the obvious professional and personal success of Dr Frank Hettlich.Thank you! 

But – in addition to Dr Frank Hettlich there was “Frank”.Outside the practice he was just “Frank”.27 years ago, when Frank earned his PPL (private pilot’s license) the “Hett-Air” was founded: no flights were undertaken without Claudia, Bianca, Malaika and of course Mutti. Malaika was only four weeks old when she was flown to Jersey. Just as she learned to walk, we explored the USA (full circle). I remember the Rocky Mountains – very high indeed! Frank always carried a gigantic globe in his head; travelling new horizons in his mind. 

Following the US tour, we flew across Australia (North and South, East and West) – sometimes lacking even radio contact due to the remote locations we found ourselves in. When Frank disappeared for hours busy with flight plans, his four girls patiently sat on a piece of cardboard, leaning against hangar walls, reading the single book that was allowed for weight reasons (we had to split it in four and read in turns!). Sometimes we did smuggle a second novel on board though… 

After Australia we began exploring Africa. Initially Namibia, later South Africa. It took us a long time to fly to Cape Town, as initially our school holidays coincided with the African winter. Finally we set off toward the Cape but not without difficulties… First the door fell off the chartered plane and then the engine played up and refused to start. The approach to Cape Town International Airport saw the city beneath us as a sea of lights, Table Mountain shrouded in light clouds. That was the beginning of a great love. 

Of course – we now had to (!) fly from Germany to Cape Town ourselves: what a fascinating journey. The first trip took us via the Eastern route, with just a little bit of water and a little bit of desert to cross.On our approach to Lilongwe/Malawi the controller asked “Are you Frank?” I could not believe it!Then we travelled along the West Coast, crossing the Sahara desert several times and even landing in Timbuktu. By now all the customs and border officials knew the Delta-Golf Oscar Mike Mike (D-GOMM). “Aha, here comes Frank”.And soon there was laughter and joking, even though it often was tough to re-fuel using hand pumps. 

Several years ago we were invited to the three-yearly Earthrounder meeting in Vienna. Earthrounders are a special kind of people who fly around the world in light aircrafts. Frank had stars in his eyes – this was a new dimension to be explored. Of course we had already practised: we had flown from Dakar to Brazil and from Labrador via Greenland and Island to the United Kingdom (visiting Claudia and Robin). Thus inevitably: “Dorise, we’ll do this, too!”. Preparations for this undertaking were manifold – I had plenty of time to write invoices because my very own perfectionist had disappeared into a world of buying and studying maps, calculating and measuring what was going to be possible or not and getting the plane ready. Earthrounders are like a second family. Everybody helps to make the pioneering pilot adventures a success – and all of a sudden one has friends all over the world. 

And then we did it!This trip made me appreciate the difference between “man” and “woman” however. “Woman” says Good Bye to the kids, organizes the practice and delegates to Silke. “Man” asks himself “What’s the problem? – my plane is perfects, my preparations are perfect – let’s go!” We were only the 42nd twin engine light aircraft in 100 years of aviation history to fly around the world (in 60 days). Whenever I was fearful facing a large expanse of ocean Frank laughed: “But the plane does not know that it has got water beneath it!” He was very proud of his achievement – and so am I. Few people have the courage to take on a journey like this. We both agreed we’d do it again, but then take more time.  

But the passionate pilot had already picked another destination: South America was unexplored and the Falkland Islands as well as Antarctica beckoned. “Let’s get cracking”.After a wonderful family Christmas the adventurous parents once again flew the nest and left the kids behind with a large map of the world. But this time it was different. I was unsettled, suddenly afraid. On the first leg of the journey I had breathing problems which re-occurred on each subsequent stretch. We therefore decided that I would cross the Atlantic on a commercial flight. Was this destiny? I think, it was simply not my turn yet – as normally we would have been flying together. From Cape Town to Germany, then Dakar, Brazil, Argentina, the Falkland Islands then to Chile. We could not fly to Antarctica ourselves as a huge amount of paperwork still required approval. Hence we went on board an Uruguayan Hercules military aircraft. I know precisely that Frank only flew to check it out – it was his next dream destination.  

On this last flying journey we saw the most beautiful spots on the planet, played golf on the southernmost golf course and met the most unbelievably wonderful people. Time and time again we were greeted by name on arrival: “Hello Frank and Dorise - Welcome to the end of the earth, Welcome to Patagonia, Welcome to Valdivia, Welcome to Buenos Aires, Welcome to Brasilia”. We had many helping hands and experienced much awe and respect in view of our flying achievements. I said “Good Bye” to Frank in Buenos Aires. People like Frank and I do not leave any unresolved issues behind – one learns this in aviation.I am thankful for this now. 

The last journey is known to us all by now. Frank showed extraordinary perfection and focus to the end – but his time had come.  We had planned to retire mostly to South Africa. Flying there is still largely without limitations. Frank often took off for a spin around the Cape of Good Hope and occasionally patients from Kleve joined him and waved at us waiting below. South Africa is our “little paradise”. Our first village school is completed, the next project already launched. Now we can all build “Frank’s Heaven” – a township kindergarten – together. The kindergarten will be wonderful and maybe we can build a school next door (Malaika suggested this might be “Frank’s Hell”…).

Our love for the African continent is the reason for Frank’s very last journey which took him to Africa. His final destination was our favourite mountain, nicknamed “Mount Dorise”. We have celebrated his life at the Stellenbosch Airfield with the Flying Club. Our many friends created a wonderful Farewell Party with us. Malaika took off for a Fly By for her Papa, balloons with final messages went up and an enthusiastic children’s choir sang. All enjoyed the celebration with Frank’s beloved Riverboat Jazz Band and some good Cape wine.We will not forget Frank! 

The second love of his life was aviation – his first love was his family: Dorise, Claudia, Bianca and Malaika. His second love took him away – for ever. A pilot friend wrote:“In heaven are not just angels; there is a runway and a cosy little pilot’s pub where we can all meet and swap lovely memories”.I can imagine it:At the gate to heaven Saint Peter said: “Hello Frank, welcome to paradise”Frank laughed and asked: “Where can I file my flight plan? – Directly to cloud number 7”.  

Dorise Hettlich


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