August 25, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
As Hurricane Irene was making its way toward the U.S. East Coast, where it menaced areas not threatened by a hurricane in decades, relief flights were already being planned for the Bahamas, which was taking a direct hit from what was an intensifying Category 3 storm.
On the morning of Aug. 25, the nonprofit relief organization Bahamas Habitat had begun mobilizing pilots to conduct relief flights, and was issuing a call for new volunteers, said John Armstrong, chairman and president of the U.S.-based group. Armstrong told AOPA that he was gathering reports from bases that were “getting hit directly right now.”
“There will definitely be a response, no matter what the reports are,” he said.
Bahamas Habitat disaster relief coordinators planned to start flights to the Bahamas as soon as practical to assess damage and needs. The next step would be to dispatch volunteer pilots and aircraft to the places hardest hit. The flights would originate from a Bahamas Habitat staging base in Orlando, Fla.
“Pilots and volunteers interested in joining this effort or making donations should visit the organization’s website to sign up for their mission notification emails which will be used to direct and coordinate their response,” Bahamas Habitat said in a news release. Pilots interested in volunteering for missions or training can sign up on the organization’s hurricane relief Web page.
“The aviation community has proven to be a powerful force for good in times like these. We hope many new pilots will join us in this response,” Armstrong said.
Bahamas Habitat supports housing and disaster relief work in the Bahamas and Caribbean. Its volunteers flew more than 400 missions to Haiti following the earthquake, earning recognition from the National Aeronautic Association.
Pilots don’t have to wait for emergencies before volunteering. Throughout the year, Bahamas Habitat introduces pilots to mission flying and training opportunities, a system that it said was “tremendously successful” during the response to the Haiti earthquake of January 2010.
Armstrong said he expected a series of relief flights would follow the hurricane.
“Likely this will be going on for some time,” he said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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