In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Americans who want to help those affected by the storm are in no short supply. Between 50-70 pilots flew their private planes to Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport on Friday for mission one of Operation Airdrop, a donation drop-off event.
A group of Fort Worth pilots organized the event in 72 hours through social media. Dozens of pilots landed their planes in the airport and personnel from The Salvation Army helped unload pounds of diapers and baby materials, toiletries and sleeping bags to distribute to storm victims.
General aviation pilot Fabio Labrada from the Fort Worth area navigated 2.5 hours in his plane to deliver 23 sleeping bags on Friday, and he also plans to deliver supplies to more airports with Operation Airdrop next week.
“This is nothing. Anybody would do it, I am sure,” Labrada said. “I feel so bad for the people who live here. They are having such a hard time, so this is the least I can do.”
Operation Airdrop was inspired by the Cajun Navy, said John Clay Wolfe, one of the event’s organizers and a radio personality with iHeart Media. The Operation Airdrop Facebook group was created on Aug. 29 by Wolfe and fellow pilot Doug Jackson, quickly attracting almost 300 private pilots—and counting—from across Texas and the U.S. who volunteered to fly donations to areas in need.
Operation Airdrop’s Conroe event is the first operation, Wolfe said, and the group intends to dispatch to Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Rockport and other coastal communities more accessible by plane than by truck. Pilots will be accepting donations in their cities.
“Today is kind of a practice round, if you will, because Conroe is accessible by ground,” Wolfe said. “Our vision is to get these planes into areas that are inaccessible.”
Jeff Marquis, planning chief for The Salvation Army, said many items will be distributed to Salvation Army locations across the Greater Houston Area, where those in need can pick up what they need.
“The need just in Harris County is going to be massive for months going forward as we try to transition from immediate disaster relief to the recovery stage,” Marquis said. “We will be helping people get registered with FEMA, helping them go into their homes, and providing them with emotional support and spiritual care.”
While civilian pilots volunteered their time to disaster relief, across the airport, personnel from all military branches have been performing various rescue and relief operations by using the airport as base. James Brown, director of Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport, said operation numbers at the airport have increased greatly in the last week, as military personnel have flown large aircrafts filled with evacuees, supplies and more to and from the airport.
He said the airport has become a hub for disaster relief in the area, as it was able to remain open for the vast majority of the storm. The airport has provided access to the region while numerous other airports, including William P. Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport, temporarily shut-down operations during the storm, Brown said.
“An airport is a huge asset, especially in a time like this," Brown said. "This airport has been able to play an important role in this relief effort, and we will continue to be here [for military personnel]."