ORONO, Maine — At 85, Dugald “Doug” Kell Sr. of Ellsworth maintains an unusually active lifestyle. He goes to work every day at Kelco Industries, the Milbridge-based Christmas tree and wreath supply company he founded in 1955 and that he now co-owns with his oldest son, Doug Kell Jr.
Kell is also an experienced pilot with more than 4,000 hours of flight time under his belt.
“I started flying when I was about 35 in the Florida Keys. I was in the fishing business and I used to spot fish,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday.
He frequently flew his late 1970s twin-engine plane — a Grumman American Cougar, also known as model GA-7 — between Bangor and the northern Maine town of St. Francis, where he has a balsam fir tree farm that includes a small airstrip.
Conceding that age was affecting his flying, Kell recently made the difficult decision to give the airplane he has flown and maintained since he bought it in the late 1970s to Down East Emergency Medicine Institute, a nonprofit volunteer search and rescue group headquartered in Orono.
He and DEEMI both kept their planes in the community hangars at General Aviation near Bangor International Airport.
“I am a very senior person. I’m still very active. I work every day. I do a lot of stuff but I know I was not flying enough to be as good as I would like to be,” Kell said. “And I also realized that I’m not as sharp as I was and I was no longer flying that many hours to stay up to snooker on it. So I called [DEEMI] on the phone and said I’m ready to give it to you.”
“I kissed it goodbye and that was the end of it,” he said. “After I handed the keys over, I went home and had a tear.”
DEEMI Operations Director Richard Bowie last week pegged the Cougar’s dollar value at around $150,000, noting that it is equipped with many added-on bells and whistles, including GPS and weather radar and navigational technology.
Kell said he’d been thinking about donating his plane to DEEMI for some time.
“About 5 years ago, I talked to the guys that now have the airplane and told them that I was getting older and sooner or later I’d have to stop flying and if so, then I would give them the airplane. So I called them up a week or so ago and said the time has come,” Kell said.
“What they do is they search [for] and rescue people and they go all over and do this and they have good ways to do it. I would rather do that and feel that it was in good hands and do some good for people,” he said.
DEEMI pilot and search image specialist Gary Soucy said Monday that the Cougar likely will be put into use within about a month, after it has received a thorough going over by the organization’s mechanic.
He said that two of DEEMI’s four pilots already have the certification needed to fly multi-engine airplanes and that he currently is working toward that goal.
Soucy, an electrical contractor and photographer who takes many of the high-resolution images DEEMI uses in its search and rescue operations, said the four-seat Cougar has a range of about 700 miles, nearly twice that of the two-seat single-engine Citabria Alaskan bush plane that DEEMI used for its imagery work, which has a range of about 400 miles, he said.
“He’s a hero,” Soucy said of Kell while giving a tour of the aircraft on Monday afternoon.
Soucy said the Cougar likely will be used, at least initially, to transport DEEMI’s search dog team and other volunteers to and from locations they normally would have had to fly to via commercial airlines. It eventually might be equipped to do imagery as well, he said.