...As Grass-Roots Efforts Continue...
"The impetus for this was, we were watching the storm coverage on TV, and we saw the need, and we knew we could help." The ad hoc group "Operation Brother's Keeper," based in Atlanta, grew from an effort to provide empty vacation rentals as free temporary shelter to evacuees along with free air transportation. Now they are coordinating the work of volunteer pilots and medical personnel to get into the devastated regions and transport victims out. "We organized on Tuesday and began operations on Thursday [last week]," spokesman Milo Pinckney told AVweb yesterday. They're staging out of Baton Rouge, where they are taking people from shelters and flying them to Atlanta, then on to safe housing donated by vacation-home owners. "So far we've flown 184 sorties in two and a half days, and transported at least a couple hundred people out of a deplorable situation, and reunited families who'd been separated," Pinckney said. "We have 164 aircraft, 240 physicians, and 190 vacation homes." His wife, Gail, operates a vacation-rental company, and he is CFO of a physicians' group and the owner of a Navajo. At first their offers were stonewalled by officials who told them to submit proposals and documents. "All of these medical personnel and pilots already are licensed, and there are leases and contracts for the houses," he said. "We needed to get those people out of there." After more calls to politicians and contacts in Washington, he finally got through to the governor of Louisiana, who gave him authorization to operate. This Tuesday, they extended operations into the city of New Orleans itself, and Milo says they'll keep flying as long as they can, and as long as there's a need. "It's the citizen's responsibility to pitch in, when you have the means, and you have an aircraft and all that training. Time to put it to use," he said. At their Web site, Brother's Keeper is compiling a database of pilots, physicians, and anyone with food, clothing or housing to donate. The phone number is 404-783-1836 or 404-783-1846.
The Texas Aviation Association also organized its own relief effort, sending several Cessnas and a Beechcraft Sierra filled with supplies from the Great Hills Baptist church and Sam's Wholesale into the region, where they were "just as appreciated as the National Guard, arriving on the same day," according to the group's Web site. Pilot Jim Howard joined the effort, carrying 477 pounds of food into Baton Rouge in his 177-RG. "There was a crew from a local Baptist Church to receive the supplies when I arrived," he told AVweb yesterday. "I then checked in with the Angel Flight temporary office that has been set up. They had a stack of evacuee baggage that earlier Angel Flights had been unable to lift. I was assigned an Angel Flight mission to carry these bags to the Angel Flight office at Addison. I wound up with 8.0 hours on the Hobbs." He offered this advice for pilots flying into BTR -- 100LL is available there, but lines are long, so tanker in what you need. Phone service is spotty. And be sure to tie down your airplane. "There are hundreds of helicopters operating from KBTR, some very large ones. They can kick up a lot of wind," he said. As a final note, he added: "This flight really made me count my blessings."
The TXAA is planning more flights to Tylertown (T36), 401 nm away, and to Lafayette (LFT), 311 nm, and perhaps to other destinations as well. Many reports have warned that volunteer pilots should stay away from the region, or they could find they are just in the way, or that there is no means to store or distribute the supplies they deliver. But many seem willing to take that chance, or are organizing their own aid networks, seeing that the need is so great and their desire to help is so strong.