Some pilots didn’t even wait for the storm to hit – as Hurricane Irene was gathering strength over the Caribbean late last month, the business aviation community was already flying supplies to communities in the storm’s path.
Bob Showalter, chairman of Orlando FBO Showalter Flying Service, flew a load of canned food, water, batteries, tarps and other supplies to the Bahamas in his 1974 Aztec on Wednesday, August 24, the day before the hurricane hit the islands. He’s flown several trips to the Bahamas since, delivering supplies to the fire chief of Treasure Cay.
“We know how tenuous it is for the people down there,” said Showalter. “We’ve seen a lot of trees down, roofs off, sunken boats and damaged docks. Because of where the storm went after, and the damage in the U.S., the Bahamas haven’t that got much attention, but they were hit really hard. There’s been a lot of flooding and they just don’t have the resources like we do.”
About five other operators based at Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) have also been flying relief missions to the Bahamas, in addition to another half dozen operators based at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE). Many of the missions to the Bahamas have been coordinated by Bahamas Habitat, a nonprofit relief organization supported by young volunteers. Showalter Flying Service at ORL and Banyan Air Service at FXE have been the two bases for Bahamas Habitat, donating their hangars for relief missions, selling fuel at near cost and happily allowing the organization to fill their conference rooms with supplies.
Gary Smith, senior partner of Sarasota Yacht & Ship, received an alert from Angel Flight that Bahamas Habitat needed pilot volunteers. “I showed up at FXE on Sunday, August 28, and the team from Bahamas Habitat was in search of goods. They had planes but nothing to deliver,” said Smith. “The other pilots and I knew we had to act fast. We went to the nearest Wal-Mart or Winn-Dixie and bought cases of canned food, jugs of water, tarps, flashlights and towels.”
In a few hours, Smith was headed south in his Mooney J Model. He’s made two trips and estimates that the volunteers flying out of FXE have delivered well over 5,000 pounds of supplies to the Bahamas. “It’s really amazing how much cargo a small plane will hold with all seats removed and no passengers.”