AOPA members aid tsunami victims

January 25, 2005

AOPA members aid tsunami victims
Donations support GA-based Air Serv

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Tsunami-ravaged area
near Medan, Indonesia
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A relief volunteer uses a satellite
phone to coordinate air support logistics.
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The helicopter support trailer being unloaded from the AN-124 in Medan.
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Air Serv loads a Huey aboard an
AN-124 in Billings, Montana.
The helicopter is destined for
Southeast Asia, where it will
support tsunami relief efforts.
AOPA member donations are helping
to fund Air Serv's relief work.
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A city block in Indonesia,
flattened by the tsunami wave.
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Two Air Serv helicopters flying over Sumatra with humanitarian assessment teams enroute to outlying areas.

Generous AOPA members are supporting general aviation while aiding the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, helping to restore their lives and property.

Through Thursday morning, AOPA members had donated more than $46,000 to Air Serv International, a non-governmental humanitarian organization (NGO) that uses GA aircraft to provide logistical support to other NGOs and relief agencies.

AOPA's $25,000 matching donation brings the total raised so far to more than $71,000. But with the devastation from the largest natural disaster in modern times, the need continues for contributions to all of the humanitarian agencies providing relief to tsunami victims.

AOPA member donations at work
An on-site report from Air Serv's CEO

Air Serv CEO Stu Willcuts sent this report to AOPA today about Air Serv's efforts from Indonesia:

Currently we have seven helicopters on the ground with six working and one waiting for a new rotor blade. Three helicopters (an AS-350 Squirrel, Long Ranger, and one 407) are supporting Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Both Hueys and one 407 are supporting World Vision relief efforts. An operations base is located at the airport at Banda Aceh.

Banda Aceh used to get four to six civilian flights a day. These days they get 40-plus each day and the place is crammed. The Australians are assisting with air traffic control. There are some 15 civilian helicopters with all operators having set up a "heli control" frequency. Safety is a major concern, which all are dedicated to guarding.

Flights are generally covering the geographical area from Banda Aceh all down the west coast to points somewhat south of Meulaboh (named Malibu Beach these days), and points up to 4 kilometers inland, where new communities or groups of people are being discovered every day.

Along with Mission Aviation Fellowship, we have surveyed much of the coastal highway. We have identified several fixed-wing (Caravan or Twin Otter) landing sites on the coast road. Some chainsaw work and pick-and-shovel work needs to be done to assure safety. When this is done larger loads can be effectively spread along the coast at key points from whence the helicopters can deliver to family groups and former village sites.

At present, the longevity of this overall program is projected at 60 days, or roughly the end of March, with a budget of around $750,000.

The support of all is essential and appreciated.

The most effective way to help is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. USA Freedom Corps lists the agencies, including Air Serv International, which the U.S. government recognizes as charitable organizations providing tsunami relief. Tsunami-specific donations made before January 31 of this year can be applied to your 2004 taxes.

In a meeting with NGOs January 10 on tsunami relief efforts, President Bush and USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios singled out Air Serv's Chief International Pilot Kurt Neuenschwander ( AOPA 00738136) regarding the specific work Air Serv is conducting in the tsunami relief efforts.

According to Neuenschwander, President Bush noted the speed with which Air Serv has responded to this international disaster, and the president asked specifically if Air Serv had been operational in the region before the tsunami. "I responded that we hadn't been, but that being able to mobilize quickly for disasters is exactly what Air Serv does," said Neuenschwander.

Air Serv quickly dispatched a King Air 300 turboprop and an Aerospatiale Puma helicopter to provide initial relief efforts in Sri Lanka, and two Bell 407 helicopters to Banda Aceh, Indonesia. It has since brought in two Huey helicopters and related support equipment from Billings, Montana, to the disaster area.

Update: January 27, 2005