Oct. 5, 2017
When Jo Damato, NBAA’s senior director, educational development and strategy, received an urgent phone call recently from fellow Florida Tech alumnus Miguel Estremera, it began a chain of events that illustrates just how much heart the business aviation community has for those in need.
Estremera – a Boston-based United Airlines pilot – is also Puerto Rican. He was desperate to get three generators, food and water for his family and 1,000 pounds of medical supplies to the children’s hospital in Puerto Rico because Hurricane Maria had destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure.
“Miguel had contacted air traffic controllers in San Juan, who told him they were living in the ATC facility because their homes were destroyed,” Damato said. “He said their generator had exploded, and they were running low on food and water. My first instinct was to connect Miguel with Robin Eissler, program director and founder of the PALS Sky Hope Disaster Relief Program. Within four hours, Eissler had lined up a Citation V and crew in Bedford, MA to airlift Miguel and his supplies to Puerto Rico.”
Damato and Estremera also joined forces with Fin Bonset, president of the Florida Tech College of Aeronautics Alumni Association, to enlist the help of alumni in the Melbourne, FL area in supporting relief flights to Puerto Rico.
“I was able to contact several alums and friends to help,” Bonset said, “and we immediately had about 20 people donating money, supplies, generators, manpower, aircraft and time. We were able to get all the supplies within a four-hour period, and Atlantic Jet Center at Orlando Melbourne International Airport helped with loading the outbound aircraft. The flights made it to San Juan just in time to help the air traffic controllers and their families, who were down to their last bags of Doritos and were running out of supplies.”
Eissler said PALS Sky Hope has organized and flown almost 50 flights to areas impacted by Hurricane Maria, including Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix and Dominica, with approximately 20 additional flights scheduled this week.
“Our coordinators have been working 40 days straight on Maria relief, as well as our Hurricane Harvey and Irma efforts,” said Eissler. “We have flown everything from a PC-12 to an Embraer Lineage, along with several Falcons, Citations, Gulfstreams and King Airs. NBAA members are always the first to help.”