HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Huntsville International Airport is playing a role in bringing relief to some of the hardest hit communities of New Orleans, but a group of local pilots are making the difference in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
“The situation is becoming very crucial,” says Vital Flight volunteer pilot Cody Garton. “Things are becoming very scarce, food being number one. In some cases they don’t have food up to 90 miles away. The stores are gone. They have no way to procure any supplies. So we’re basically their lifeline today.”
Since Friday, the Ft. Lauderdale-based volunteer group Vital Flight has sent three tons of recently bought goods to New Orleans-area airports otherwise cut off, and all in personal planes from Huntsville.
“From the time that somebody donated money this morning, our volunteers were at the store buying it,” Vital Flight Chairman David Knies says. “And it’s on the airplane. It left the store and it’s on the airplane in 35-40 minutes, and give it two and a half hours it’ll be on the ground there. So it’s the fastest turn-around you can ask for.”
Knies has coordinated missions like this one for 15 years, all out of a passion for flying and helping.
“All of our pilots that fly for us are doing it entirely on their own nickel,” Knies says. “They don’t get any money from us or anybody else to fly these flights. We’re carrying things like feminine products, food, basic food supplies.”
Those supplies are for people like Aimee and Dennis Calamusa, who live in Jefferson Parish, which is just south of New Orleans. In the aftermath of the storm they stayed with friends in Marshall County. Sunday, they had to leave to return to their neighborhood, still without power until at least Wednesday.
“There can never be enough of (relief aid),” Aimee says. “It’s really the lack of media attention that makes people forget about it. We just need to keep talking about it because there are people who are going to be months without a home, without food and water sources. They’re going to be depending on someone else, just like we did.”
That’s why Huntsville-based pilots like 23-year old Alex McCabe answer the call to fly half-ton loads to the town of Galliano, Louisiana, one of Ida’s worst hit communities.
“It’s an honor to help the people that are in need down in Louisiana right now,” McCabe says. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through. If I can do more flights like this I’d absolutely love to. We don’t want more hurricanes though.”
“We’ve got tons of pilots who have huge hearts,” Knies says. “They’re ready to go out and help people.”
Click here to donate to Vital Flight.