October 21, 2008
On Friday morning, Oct. 17, a fleet of 31 privately owned airplanes and a corporate jet took off from airports around the U.S. Southwest to deliver much needed relief supplies to Alamos, a small town in northern Mexico.
Norbert, a Pacific Ocean hurricane had deluged the town of 9,000 a week earlier. According to reports, the storm was very localized and very severe. One report said a wall of water, “like a tsunami,” descended on the town at 11 p.m. and didn’t slow for two hours. A video of the damage is available online.
Following reports from his staff of severe storm damage and loss of life, Jim Swickard, owner of the Hacienda de los Santos resort and spa in Alamos, and Jack McCormick, of the Baja Bush Pilots, organized and coordinated a first-aid style relief effort using private airplanes. Requests for donations of supplies and funding, and for airplane owners willing to donate flight time, were passed to the flying community through the Baja Bush Pilots Web site.
The response was immediate and staggering in its scope. Within a few days, more than 10 tons of donations were stockpiled for delivery and a large number of airplane owners had volunteered their time and use of their airplanes to the effort.
In order to speed the relief effort, Mexican authorities stationed aviation, immigration, and customs officials at the Alamos airport, temporarily converting it into an official airport of entry for the airborne relief fleet. Some pilots stopped only long enough to drop their supplies, while others stayed to help sort and distribute the clothing, bedding, tarps, baby formula, diapers, medicines, and other relief supplies to the town’s residents.
Alamos, located 380 nm south of Tucson, Ariz., is situated on an island of land at the confluence of three rivers—Arroyo La Barranca, Arroyo La Aduana, and Arroyo Escondida. Torrential rains from Norbert caused mud and debris slides down the nearby mountains.
Debris that was too large to pass under the four bridges piled up, forcing the rivers to overflow their banks and sweep through the streets in the lower parts of the town. Eventually, all four bridges spanning the rivers were swept off their footings, slowing efforts to provide help to those isolated by the storm.
As of Sunday, Oct. 19, 35 people were confirmed dead with another 11 people still unaccounted for; 150 homes had been lost and 350 homes had suffered major damage. Electricity and sewer systems had been restored and 70 percent of the town had fresh water.
Local hotels set up dining rooms, providing three meals a day. One kitchen, set up in the local high school, fed 200 residents a day at the beginning of week. By the end of the week, the resident count was down to 25.
Alamos is best known to U.S. flyers as the home of the Hacienda de los Santos, an internationally known 27-room luxury resort and spa that caters to fly-in visitors and hosts two fly-in events for the resort’s Club de Pilotos de Mexico every year. The next Club de Pilotos de Mexico fly-in will take place from Nov. 12 through 16, and Swickard says he believes the town will be back on its feet by then. He urges anyone who wishes to help in the relief effort to put cash into the town’s economy by visiting and staying in any of the town’s hotels. For more information about Alamos and its attractions, see www.alamosmexico.com.
Pilot Skip Gibbs regularly uses his Bonanza A36 to bring medical volunteers and supplies to remote areas of Mexico. Just before sunset, Gibbs was flying to the historic city of El Fuerte in the state of Sinaloa where LIGA International Flying Doctors of Mercy has been doing good works since 1934.
It could be the perfect two-week getaway: a free trip to France to participate in the Tour Aerien Des Jeunes Pilotes. One American pilot between the ages of 18 and 24 will have the opportunity to fly in an air race in France from July 15 through 28.
Chris Polhemus has flown over the beaches of Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day before, but in 2014 he hopes to return at the controls of a C-47, dropping paratroopers in the early-morning darkness.