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Volunteer Pilots Help in Hurricane Florence Recovery

FAA’s Compliance Philosophy Improving SafetyAlmost two weeks after Hurricane Florence roared onto land along the coastal Carolinas, dozens of general aviation pilots have flown out of the GA facility at Raleigh-Durham Airport delivering essential supplies to people on the coast trapped by floodwaters.

Since Hurricane Florence hit September 13, squadrons of pilots from all over the U.S. have descended their small planes onto the tarmac at the GA section of Raleigh-Durham Airport, bringing along their big hearts and essential supplies to coastal residents and shelters isolated by flooding.

Pilot Ken Haenlein from Southern Pines, NC explained what was driving him, and likely the dozens of pilots and hundreds of volunteers who came together to gather food, water, clothing and cleaning and medical supplies for air shipment to parts of the North Carolina coast inaccessible by road for more than a week. “I’ve been lucky, blessed,” Haenlein said as he got ready to make his sixth flight on his plane, which has a payload of 1,500 pounds. “Giving back is something that’s important.”

By September 22, volunteer pilots had flown an estimated 430 flights to deliver 248,182 pounds of supplies, which went largely to shelters.

Second wettest storm in U.S. history

A North Carolina State University scientist said only last year's Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain over a 14,000 square mile area in the United States during a four-day period. And preliminary analysis by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at NC State and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, found more than 17.5 inches fell on average over five weather stations in the 14,000 square miles of the eastern Carolinas stretching from Fayetteville to Florence, South Carolina. That amount is second only to Harvey's 25.6 inches.

Operation AirDrop Part 2

In the immediate wake of Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston and other parts of southern and eastern Texas, GA pilots organized “Operation AirDrop.” Ethan Garrity was among the AirDrop pilots as well as air traffic controllers who organized a similar volunteer airlift of supplies into areas affected by Florence, ferrying a quarter million pounds of supplies in eight days. The group also responded to Irma. Hurricane Florence is their third foray into performing air relief work.

Grassroots efforts like these offer GA pilots and other aviation professionals a unique opportunity to share their skills and to give back while doing what they love. GA pilots and planes can often land in airports where larger aircraft are not able or permitted to land, especially in more restricted disaster areas. Pilots can load up aircraft with supplies and arrive to affected areas faster, where people are suffering and time is of the essence.

Medical needs change with time

Regarding goodwill rescue missions, in the first three to four days, people are hunkered down, just surviving. But other needs, both sanitary and medical, emerge as the days go on. “Once the muck out phase starts, you can tell because people start requesting items like boots, N95 masks, gloves, bug spray, and lip balm,” Garrity says.

It’s during the cleanup phase that many medical needs become apparent. Tetanus, animal bites, waterborne pathogens, and a lack of potable water are major concerns. That’s why pilots and volunteers have ferried so much drinking water and even a 1,500 pound water filtration system.

Many people set aside four to five days of medications in preparation of a major storm or hurricane, but as the isolation progresses, medical supplies for needs such as insulin and bandages become more pressing.

Cindy Brochure, the mayor of Oak Island who has been one of Garrity’s liaisons on the receiving end, said one of the biggest requests was for, “Diapers, diapers and more diapers.”

Weight versus volume

The floor of the TAC Air building was marked up with boxes created by red tape. Inside each box were piles of donations that had been weighed and grouped into piles weighing 150 pounds. Pilots could come in and find, say, six piles to carry in a plane with a payload of 1,000 pounds.

Garrity said that the balance in a plane was between “weighting out” and “cubing out.”

“Twenty pounds of diapers will cube out one of these aircraft before it weighs it out, versus water which is 35 pounds a case, but a case is very dense,” he said. “Those are the two critical things for planning and logistics that we have to master.”

Operation AirDrop Raleigh wrapped up flights on October 1 at noon, as roads are open to get supplies to areas previously trapped by floodwaters.

Source: NC Health News and staff writers, Elizabeth Page and Steve Tell.

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