Roosevelt • Santa paid a visit to Utah Friday morning to bring an early Christmas to Duchesne County elementary school kids.

But rather than tucker out his trusty reindeer two weeks before Christmas Eve, St. Nick instead enlisted a fleet of volunteer pilots through the nonprofit Angel Flight West to transport gifts collected by his helpers in the Salt Lake valley.

Thirty-five light airplanes descended on an airfield outside Roosevelt, laden with toys, school supplies and clothes for the students and teachers of Centennial Elementary School. More than 500 students cheered and waved as Santa made his grand entrance by landing on the school’s field in a helicopter and the gifts rolled up in a semitruck.

“You all deserve this more than you know,” Principal Bruce Guymon said as he choked back tears during an assembly following Santa’s arrival.

This year’s voyage — known as the Santa Flight — marked the largest haul in the program’s 17 years in operation, said Steve Bollinger, Utah’s Angel Flight wing leader. The nonprofit selects a different Title I school — a school primarily comprising students from low-income families — to receive school supplies and gifts each year in hope of making the holiday season a little brighter.

Angel Flight is a nationwide organization providing free transportation for medical patients facing financial struggles. Bollinger said the Santa Flight mission, which in past years has traveled to cities such as Cedar City, Hurricane and Delta, brings a special lift to its volunteer pilots on the Wasatch Front every year.

Groups including Boy Scout troops across the Salt Lake valley collect the gifts for months leading up to the flight. Many Scouts work with Santa Flight to earn their Eagle Scout ranking, including 17-year-old Jonah Berthold of Salt Lake City.

Berthold said he wanted to use his Eagle Scout project to help as many people as possible. After months of gathering gifts and other donations, Berthold flew with about 10 other Boy Scouts to deliver the gifts to Centennial.

“Service is something I have always loved to do, especially when you get to see the end result,” Berthold said. Flying in a plane for the first time, he said, was an added perk.

Several pilots attended Centennial’s assembly following the festive delivery, where students sang several Christmas carols to thank them. Jay Wood of Sandy said the Santa Flight is one of his most rewarding experiences.

Wood learned about Angel Flight about seven years ago through a poster calling for volunteers pilots. It proved to be an ideal way, Wood said, to transform his flying hobby into a force for good.

As he soared over the snowy peaks of Spanish Fork Canyon on the flight home from Roosevelt, Wood said he was thankful to share the skies with pilots who use their skills to help others during the holidays.

“Taking part in giving people the help they need and deserve,” he said, “is why I do this.”