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Chicago to Joplin: Business Aviation Tornado-Relief Flights Continue

June 1, 2011

Hear a podcast interview with aviator-businessman Robert McKenzie.

Attorney Robert McKenzie delivers medical and other supplies to tornado-stricken Joplin, MOAttorney Robert McKenzie says that use of business aircraft to deliver medical and other supplies to tornado-stricken Joplin, MO over the past week is “an excellent example of corporate citizenship.” For hundreds of injured men, women and children, the steady stream of business airplanes with life- saving supplies has been more like an airlift from heaven.

Business aircraft of every description have been responding to the urgent needs of survivors in Joplin ever since the May 22 tornado ripped through the southwestern Missouri city. The 200+ mph twister tore up about six miles of the city that Sunday evening, instantly turning buildings into rubble.

“It’s unbelievable to see what basic needs people have in the disaster area,” said McKenzie, who helped organize an airlift of business aircraft from the Chicago area. “Just in my Cessna 182, I’m carrying thousands of surgical gloves, basic necessities like toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo, soaps, clothing, blankets, survival supplies and even 20 medium-size tarps. My airplane is packed to the gills.”

McKenzie, who is the lead aviation attorney for the Chicago law firm of Arnstein and Lehr, LLP, said the air lift provided by his company and several other Chicago-area businesses was assembled in less than 24 hours. On May 27 starting at 8:30 AM, he called all of his law firm’s aircraft-owning business clients, explaining the mission and asking for support. By that evening, five aircraft had been committed for the relief effort, with several more ranging from single-engine piston airplanes to Cessna Citation jets promised as they became available.

“At 6 AM the next morning, my plane was packed and ready for takeoff from Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK),” McKenzie said. “Business airplanes are meant to get company personnel from point to point quickly – when used for disaster relief, that advantage is magnified.”

All supplies carried on the airlift from Chicago were donated by businesses, including one of the law firm’s oldest clients, Sears. “I coordinated with them yesterday morning and by afternoon I had a delivery of almost 1,000 pounds of supplies at our airport, ready to take to Joplin.”

Moving supplies quickly to Joplin has only been part of the task. Evacuating the injured took first priority, starting just hours after the tornado. Both ambulance airplanes and helicopters were filling the ramp at Joplin Regional Airport’s FBO, Mizzou Aviation, rescuing not only those injured by the tornado but those displaced when the top two floors of St. John’s Medical Center were destroyed.

“The top two floors [of the hospital] were knocked off,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, surveying the devastation one day after the storm. “There are no windows. Pieces of that hospital were found as far as 70 miles away.” Added Gary Pulsipher, the St. John’s Medical Center chief executive, "It truly was like a bomb went off almost on every floor."

“We’ve probably had better than 60 people evacuated just in the first couple days,” said Wayne Adolphsen, owner of Mizzou Aviation. “I can’t begin to tell you what a scene it was Sunday night, after the tornado. I don’t know how we didn’t end up with a helicopter rotor blade through the building.” The airport is about four miles north of the worst destruction and has been able to maintain services.

As of May 31, the confirmed death toll in Joplin is nearing 150, and 10 people remained officially missing. No estimate of the homeless was available, but many of the people who lived in the 8,000 demolished structures have scattered to the homes of relatives or camped out in emergency shelters in the city.

If you or your company would like to provide relief support, for this and other emergencies, please visit the NBAA Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Database to register.

If you are affiliated with a relied organization that wants to learn more about how business aviation can help, contact NBAA's Doug Carr at dcarr@nbaa.org.