Pacific Island Air Seaplanes Rushed To The Rescue When Disaster Struck The Fiji Islands On February 20, 2016
With great force tropical cyclone “Winston” struck the Fiji’s on February 20 of this year. Natural disaster in one of its most violent forms brought great distress to a great many people. But, it also called into action the help and disaster response system put in place by Pacific Island Air, which flew dozens of missions. Chief Pilot Nick Heynick is providing a written recount of some of the flights conducted. Should you find yourself having goosebumps while reading – you’re not alone! Please share this article with decision makers and emergency response professionals, too. Seaplanes play a CRITICAL role in relief efforts and those not taking this topic serious today, may learn a hard lesson in the future.
“Our first flight out after the cyclone (besides evacuating passengers from paradise cove) was a charter for DQ-PIA organized by a local family in Suva. Mr. and Mrs. Rosa were concerned about the livelihood of their family when they saw aerial photos released by the government of their village of Mavana on Vanua Balavu completely leveled and their family home destroyed. They chartered the aircraft from Nadi to meet them in Suva and carry on to Vanuabalavu to search for their missing family. The family involved had ties with Gina in Operations and Colleen at Navutu stars, who’s house belonged to one of her workers grandmother. We were able to raise some funds last minute and fill the remainder of the plane with supplies and food to assist their charter.
Upon reaching Vanuabalavu it was evident that this was the first contact the island had with the outside world since the cyclone 4 days prior. Our crew were able to get a list of deceased and injured persons from the island and pass on the information to the authorities in Suva. This story had a happy ending and after a few hours the grandmother who resided in the big house was located and her and her family were flown out back to Suva. The supplies were delivered to the village before any foreign aid had made it there.
We also conducted a few ‘donation’ flights to 4 villages in the Yasawa islands and villages off Raki Raki using our Beavers and Otter. Our first flight was a Beaver loaded with 400 kg of food delivered to the village of Malake (off Raki Raki.) This village was almost completely leveled and debris and pieces of tin rooftops could be seen 200 meters (~600 feet) on top of the hills surrounding the village. 4 days after the cyclone many planes had circled over assessing the damage but none had stopped to provide any relief. Once touching down on the water, adults and kids alike ran down to meet the plane. Unfortunately the tides weren’t in our favor and we were unable to access the shore, but the villagers tried swimming out to greet the plane anyway. Luckily they had just got a boat running and were able to meet the plane and we offloaded the donations via boat.
We conducted two more flights delivering supplies to Viwa Island and Kese Village on Naviti Island in the Yasawas. Like before, the villagers were ecstatic to see and aircraft finally stop and deliver some supplies. The plane was instantly surrounded by kids splashing in the water and kids as young as 5 years old were eager to help out and try and carry a bag of 10 kg rice on their shoulder to the beach.
Yesterday we sent DQ-SEA on its maiden flight to deliver supplies to the village of Verevere, just south of Raki Raki. We learned of the destruction at Verevere by talking with Beni, one of our fixed wing engineers who is from Verevere. He told us how the whole village was flattened and that it hadn’t had road access yet due to damaged bridges on each side of the community. We filled the Otter with more donated supplies including rice, flour, sugar, tea, biscuits, yeast, building tools and tarps for temporary roofing. Arriving at the village it was surreal to see the damage. The village of 40 houses had only about 6 left standing and the community hall. Aproximately 150-200 people were gathered in the hall when we arrived finding shelter wherever they could. Ben came with us for the flight and was able to see his family and figure out what further materials they required as the roads have now opened up.“
This article was submitted by Pacific Island Air’s Chief Pilot Nick Heynick and reached us with the friendly support of Alison Fleming. All pictures are courtesy of Pacific Island Air and used with permission. The work in response to this natural disaster is ongoing and PIA and the GCH Aviation Group both stand ready to help and provide support for those in need.
There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and finally those who wonder what happened.
Our industry should be proud of PIA and its employees and crews, for belonging to the first group of people.
For regular updates on the situation, please refer to the Facebook page.