Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Great Day for the Flying Santa

Santa with children of Coast Guard families at Station Portsmouth Harbor

New England's Flying Santa is an 81-year-old tradition that began as a way to honor lighthouse keepers and lifesavers in remote coastal locations, and it continues today as a fun way of saying thank you to Coast Guard personnel and their families.

The first Flying Santa was Maine pilot Bill Wincapaw, who started flying float planes over Maine's light stations on Christmas 1929. Wincapaw dropped packages containing magazines, toiletries, toys, and other items for the keepers and their families as a show of gratitude for their devotion to safe navigation. Massachusetts historian Edward Rowe Snow became involved with the flights in the 1930s and took them over in the 1940s. Snow continued as the Flying Santa through 1980. The following year, the flights were picked up by the Hull Lifesaving Museum, near Boston, with Ed McCabe playing Santa.

The museum kept the tradition going until a separate nonprofit organization, the Friends of Flying Santa, was founded. Brian Tague, a photographer living in Stoneham, Massachusetts, became involved around 1990. He eventually became president of Friends of Flying Santa, and it's his work that has made it possible for the annual flights to continue well into the 21st century. Presents are no longer dropped; today a helicopter lands at Coast Guard stations from Connecticut to northern Maine, and presents are given to the children of Coast Guard families.

This year, the Flying Santa visited 33 Coast Guard stations and lighthouses. The costs of the helicopters and pilots were all donated. At the final stop of today's Maine/New Hampshire flight, Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor in New Castle, New Hampshire, an award was presented to Brian Tague for his 20 years of dedication to this wonderful tradition. Below are some photos from the event.

Waiting for Santa

About to land
L to R: Brian Tague of Friends of Flying Santa, Santa Claus, and Senior Chief John Roberts of Station Portsmouth Harbor
Capt. James McPherson, the Coast Guard's commander in northern New England, presented Brian Tague with an award

"He (Brian Tague) and his staff of volunteers really go to great lengths to add a very special touch for our Coast Guard families in New England during the holiday season," Capt. McPherson said.
Brian Tague called it an honor to be involved with the Flying Santa tradition, and he thanked everyone involved with the flights

Everyone gathered inside the mess at the Coast Guard station and the children waited eagerly for their gifts
Another happy customer
Some of the personnel of Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor posed with Santa

This video clip shows Santa's copter leaving the station and passing Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

For more on the Flying Santa, visit