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Florida pilots bring early hurricane reliefFlorida pilots bring early hurricane relief

When Hurricane Michael brought its Category 4 destructive force to bear on the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10, flattening a coastal town and inflicting cataclysmic damage elsewhere, quick work by pilots and other Floridians helped lessen the area’s immediate misery.

Hurricane Michael relief efforts

  • Hurricane Michael relief efforts
    Damaged airplanes at Marianna Municipal Airport in the Florida Panhandle. Photo by Randy Groom.
  • Hurricane Michael relief efforts
    Firefighters volunteer to help unload airplanes that flew relief supplies to the Marianna airport. Photo by Frank Jencik.
  • Hurricane Michael relief efforts
    A Bonanza is filled with Hurricane Michael relief supplies. Pilots delivered supplies to the Marianna airport in the Florida panhandle after the hurricane decimated roads. Photo by Frank Jencik.
  • Hurricane Michael relief efforts
    Volunteers unload relief supplies from a Beechcraft Bonanza at Marianna Municipal Airport. Photo by Frank Jencik.
  • Hurricane Michael relief efforts
    Randy Groom (right) with volunteers who unloaded his aircraft at Marianna. Photo courtesy of Randy Groom.

Over the next two days, four general aviation pilots flew their airplanes from Fort Pierce's Treasure Coast International Airport and Vero Beach Regional Airport to Marianna Municipal Airport in northern Florida loaded with donated supplies assembled under auspices of the Veterans Council of Indian River County and Angels of I.R.C., said Frank Jencik, a private pilot based in Fort Pierce.

Jencik’s Turbo Dakota, a Piper Aztec flown by Paul Lucas, and two Beechcraft A36 Bonanzas flown by Tom Groendyke and Randy Groom conducted multiple flights to Marianna, working with local disaster relief officials to have the relief supplies distributed by volunteers from the only airport then accessible in the area, he said.

The pilots knew widespread destruction had occurred from Mexico Beach—obliterated by Michael—to Pensacola, and “in a swath into Georgia.” They could see extensive damage beneath the tree canopy, with roofs stripped from buildings, downed trees blocking roads, and downtown areas “looking like a bomb had hit it,” Jencik said.

Vero Beach is no stranger to providing hurricane relief, having sent truckloads of donated materials to Texas when Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Houston in 2017.

This year, the town responded again, and once roads are open, “truck loads will follow,” Jencik said, noting that the pilots launched their flights to the panhandle “to get something in there” as quickly as possible.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilots, Public Benefit Flying

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