Disaster Response By Seaplane – Amy Page

A pontoon (also known as a float) plane docked at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

Disaster Response By Seaplane – A Guest Article By Amy Page

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A pontoon (also known as a float) plane docked at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

A powerful earthquake threatens to rock, drown and devastate the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years. A nurse in Washington state is preparing for the inevitable disaster through an airborne safety net that could save hundreds of lives.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault running from northern Vancouver to northern California, is due for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, scientists say, including analyses by Oregon State University quake expert Chris Goldfinger. It’s been dubbed “the big one” by many, and threatens the coast of three states and a corner of Canada.

Research predicts the destruction of major roads and runways up and down the West Coast, cutting off help and resources from its victims, who may wait weeks for help. That’s not good enough for Sky Terry, a home health care nurse who came up with a rescue route using seaplanes and volunteer pilots.

Disaster Airlift Response Team: Float Response Wing

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Sky Terry approaches a float plane at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

In a disaster that demolishes normal means of travel, aircraft can go where others can’t and provide crucial assistance. Terry’s plan is a division of the Disaster Airlift Response Plan, a California volunteer airlift resource for communities and emergency responders.

The plan, called the Disaster Airlift Response Team Float Response Wing, is a system that responds to emergencies where transportation infrastructure is damaged or destroyed using floats, or seaplanes. If roads and airports are destroyed in the event of a major earthquake, there would be no way to transport help to affected areas, Terry said. The plan is to utilize water resources like lakes, rivers and beaches, which are optimal for seaplanes.

Terry’s idea began after Hurricane Katrina. He was inspired by the assistance of trained, volunteer pilots after Hurricane Katrina and the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake – a 1989 quake in California – which destroyed major roads and cut off Watsonville and Santa Cruz from assistance by land.

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Cindy Orr, practice patient and dock boss of Kenmore Air, lies on a backboard on the floor of a float plane at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

The DART Float Response Wing originally began as the Emergency Seaplane Response plan, and grew with the involvement of two national volunteer pilot groups: the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps and the Air Care Alliance. The Emergency Volunteer Air Corps organizes volunteer groups to help in major disasters. It coordinates and promotes emergency response among general aviation pilots. The Air Care Alliance is an umbrella organization for more than 80 charitable pilot groups. Its volunteers fly patients in need, relocate wildlife and many other humanitarian-oriented missions.

How it Works

The plan installs people within the state as a living earthquake alert system, Terry said. In the event of a quake, they would text the heads of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps and the Air Care Alliance, who activate their national groups of volunteer pilots to transport the injured and deliver supplies.

“Anywhere there’s a lake, a river, a beach, a sound – all it needs is a slope and a beach without a huge mess of boulders and you have an area where a float can come in and beach, and then load back up and fly out,” Sky Terry said.


After landing, a trained, volunteer ground team would handle the aircraft and load or unload supplies or patients. Terry uses photographs, video and hands-on training to teach people who have never seen a seaplane before to work around one safely and successfully. From Seabees to Cessnas, he shows people how to work around propellers, wheels-up protocols for spotters, what docks are best for landing planes in and more.

We realized that what really made it work well and safely was the ground support,” Terry said. “It’s the community members directly from the communities who would utilize the resource that make it safe and feasible.The idea follows what was done after Loma Prieta’s quake. Eighty volunteer aircraft delivered over 500,000 pounds in supplies over three to four days.

I don’t see why we can’t easily pull more than half a million pounds in supplies,” Terry said. The DART Float Response Wing and WCGARP is looking to gather well over 100 to 200 aircraft between Idaho, Washington and Oregon working collaboratively, coherently and pre-planned.

Cooperation with Kenmore Air and California

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Terry, Batallion Chief Mike Morris, firefighters Russ Holmes and Kyle Colletti of the Northshore Fire Department in Kenmore load Orr into a float plane for an exercise at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

Saving lives is an enormous part of Terry’s life. He served five years in the army as a combat life saver, worked 14 years in search and rescue between Snohomish and Pierce counties and has been a licensed practical nurse for the past two years. He’s also stopped to help at several car accidents.

I’ve had some pretty injured people in my hands and I’ve been the one waiting for help to arrive,” Terry said. At one point, he had to CPR a non-responsive individual. “That has never left my memory. Those experiences have always been a core part of why I do what I do.”

Wanting to consult with professionals, Terry first approached Kenmore Air in Washington. They have since become heavily involved.

This never would have existed without Kenmore Air’s direct involvement,” Terry said. “Not just lending their aircraft, but their input and direction to what you can and can’t do with float planes.”

Kenmore Air’s chief pilot Chuck Perry did similar work in Alaska. He often flew heart attack victims, loggers after chainsaw accidents and mothers in labor – one of which came close to giving birth on his plane. In southeast Alaska, we do a lot of medevac just by virtue of the fact that all the communities are scattered and there are no roads,” Perry said. “There’s no quick way to get somebody to medical care.”

Perry feels that Terry’s idea is a good idea providing a good service. Kenmore Air has lent Terry its resources through planes, pilots and knowledge and more. We think Sky has a good idea,” he said. Though he feels there are a lot of challenges that come with it, he also feels it’s Kenmore Air’s obligation to help. “If we didn’t support it, who would?

The South County Airport Pilot Association’s DARP is co-helmed by Paul Marshall and works closely with Terry. Some members of SCAPA DARP’s board of directors participated in the Watsonville airlift that occurred in the days following Loma Prieta. Marshall and Terry connected through the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps. Later, Terry joined a DARP exercise that relayed donated food by plane. His offshoot of the exercise started in Washington and helped donate a collective 380 pounds of food to St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy.

On a very small scale, we were modeling what we might be doing on a large scale in a real disaster,” Marshall said.

What’s Ahead

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Terry talks with Chuck Perry, Kenmore Air’s chief Pilot while waiting.

It’s been difficult getting people to see the value of his idea. Within the last six months, however, Terry is seeing changes. More and more communities and emergency resources are reaching out to him and realizing the importance and preparing for disasters, he said.

Clallam county in Washington has developed their first disaster response team in the state. Similar teams are also developing in Oregon. In the future, Terry would like to see multiple DARTs develop within multiple counties, and would also like to see existing DARTs develop further.

It is humbling and makes me a bit nervous as to how much all these people put such faith in me,” Terry said in an email. “I’m not a pilot, not normally disaster-trained, just worked it out by listening to a lot who have done the real thing and just by listening to my instincts.”

How to get involved?

Terry looks on toward Lake Washington at Kenmore Air in Kenmore, WA on Oct. 30, 2016.

For pilots and aircraft owners that want to get involved, Terry suggests creating your own DART. But a DART isn’t made of just pilots. It’s also key to develop relationships with your local community, Terry said. Reach out to your local airports, talk to emergency medical resources with your county, and establish leadership positions and ground support.

“[There’s] still more work to do, but the crucial part is the lines of communication now exist and that cuts response time and means lives saved,” Terry said in an email to all involved. “Someday people will look up and you and your fellow pilots are going to be their miracle and hope.”

Amy Page is a 26-year-old senior at Western Washington University. As a journalism major with a focus on photography and news design, Amy loves to photograph interesting people and places. See her work at amympage.wordpress.com!

8 Comments on "Disaster Response By Seaplane – Amy Page"

  1. Sky Terry has an eminently workable idea. The Washington State counties with Puget Sound shoreline stand to gain the most from his ideas about using General Aviation aircraft and crews working in collaboration with shore based ground teams to bring in critical supplies such as medicine, blood supplies and similar life saving items, and flying out the injured and those in dire need of medical care. Sky’s correct that such a system will save lives. What we, the folks who live in those communities with Puget Sound shoreline, by working closely with County Department of Emergency Management (DEM) authorities and in Washington State – with the Washington State Deoartment of.Transportation (WSDOT) Aviation Division, which will have overall control of all air assets in Washington State in times of Emergency – both civil and military air assets – that we can create the system Sky Terry has envisioned. The key is agreement with all parties on the we must do so, and vigorous cooperation in order to make the Sky Plan a reality. Such cooperation will be evidenced by joint exercises and participation in Emergency Preparation events such as the Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition (PEP-C) 2017 Emergency Preparedness Fair to be held at Gig Harbor WA on 9/30/2017 (Last Saturday in September)

  2. Excellent article, Amy! Thanks for sharing this information. It’s far better to be “ahead of the curve” on disaster preparedness, than “behind” the curve (as happened with “Katrina”). This article raises the awareness of people for the potential resource of float plane pilots available should a major disaster strike in the Pacific Northwest or elsewhere.

  3. David W McCarroll | May 1, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Reply

    Great Idea. Now you need to come up with a way to store fuel for the aircraft that does not require the use of electric fuel pumps. Because after an earthquake of that magnitude, it would be safe to assume that electric power grid would be down. Possibly have some stored in above ground tanks that could use gravity or a siphon system to keep fuel in the planes.

  4. Jules James | May 1, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Reply

    Living on Lake Union, we always figured seaplanes would be a lifeline for us after The Big One. This article awakens me to the need to have seaplane-compatible docks identified and dock crews pre-trained. We’ll be getting on these two items! Thanks.

  5. Alan Barnard | May 2, 2017 at 12:48 am | Reply

    Focusing on Float Planes to get started in creating this kind of team in Washington makes perfect sense because of the remote areas that need to be accessed in the event of a major earthquake or tsunami in coastal Washington State. From this initial focus, the DART for Clallam County that I am working on involves fixed wing aircraft primarily because that constitutes most of the aircraft available in my County. The beauty of all this is that when we are in time of need, we can call upon the Float Plane Group from out of our area to fly in and assist us. We will have ground crew trained and ready to go and landing sites identified and ready as well for Float Planes. This kind of “modular” construct of the DART’s allows for easy assistance from other DART’s in a region to come to help other areas easily with the same organization, forms, acronyms (pilots love these) and training. Sky Terry has been invaluable in assisting us in Clallam County and when we get ours completed, I will look forward to working with him to assist in the formulation of other areas who desire this life-saving program.

  6. Hello All. This is such a privilege to get to work with such amazing individuals. Thank you all for your support and encouraging words. This is going to make a major life saving difference for many when the time comes and it is a honor to get to play a part in the process.

    For David I thought you’d like to know that the fuel point you bring up is being actively worked on to include a conference call this month to talk about the fuel disposition to include pushing it as close to the edge of the damage zone so fuel flyers out of Alaska can make the final leg along with barges and other means.

    It truly is an amazing multi-state effort to save as many as we can. It gives me hope in the future.

  7. Hello Jules. That is great to hear your willingness to help and is what is needed for this to succeed. The Seattle Fire Department is very interested and I have had a great working relationship with them for a while. I would be happy to introduce you to them.

  8. Great article. As a Blogger/Writer and retired SAR/Disaster volunteer, I love this idea. Adding more resources to Disaster prone areas, will help bring life-saving measures into play.

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