AYER -- In the wake of hurricane Sandy, whose high winds lashed the east coast of the United States last week and drove in waves of sea water, inundating coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, relief efforts around the country sprang into action, teaming with federal and state disaster agencies to bring succor to the victims of the storm.
Among those many efforts was a local one conducted by private pilots and owners of personal aircraft based out of the Fitchburg airport.
On two separate occasions, Nov. 4 and 11, pilots belonging to the Fitchburg Pilot's Association airlifted much needed supplies donated by area residents to an airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., where they were distributed by local agencies to families whose homes were destroyed by the monster storm.
"We collected donations of clothes and supplies and did two flights out to Farmingdale, N.Y., on Long Island," said private pilot and owner of Archer's Mobil, Gary Archer. "We asked for donations through our association and Facebook accounts, asking folks to donate items for the folks hit by the storm. We collected mostly clothing like jackets, gloves, mittens, things that people really needed, as well as paper items like diapers and toilet paper."
Upon landing their planes at the New York airfield, pilots of the 16 association planes that took part in the airlift had help unloading their supplies into hangars to await distribution by the effort's sponsor, Aerobridge, which offered ground support and logistics, as victim's needs differed from one location to another.
"It was something that as a group, we actually donated our planes, fuel, and time to go out there and help these folks out," said Archer, pleased at how the whole effort turned out. "It was just a real exciting thing to do, helping folks out, and we felt really good about it."
Even as the association pilots were flying in supplies, however, conditions for victims remained unenviable. Over 10 days after the storm struck, thousands of residents of New York and New Jersey were still without power, living in shelters, and freezing as temperatures dropped. Some even had to contend with looters going through the rubble of their homes, stealing anything they could lay their hands on.
Although association pilots did not meet those who were in need firsthand, they did glimpse some of the devastation from the air and met some of those on the ground who did.
"I talked to one guy at the airport who told me that in his 36 years there he'd never seen anything like the damage that storm did," said Archer. "He said that there were a couple folks at the airport with him who lost everything in the storm. Everything they owned was sitting in their front yards waiting to be picked up for trash."
Archer gave credit for the idea of taking advantage of the association's ability to move supplies into stricken areas quickly to FCA Flight School operator Charley Valera, whose business is based out of the Fitchburg airport.
"Charley came up with the idea to pitch in and help those in need when we could and in the past, we've put our resources to work," recounted Archer. "When the hurricane hit, we decided to get together and see what we could do to help the victims. The idea went like wildfire through the group. We all felt that if something like that ever happened to us, we hoped somebody would come to help us as well. It just seemed to be the right thing to do."
"They were all just ready to go," said Valera of the association pilots reaction to his suggestion. "So we quickly organized a couple of donation days and flew whatever supplies we gathered out to various centers in New York and New Jersey. We weren't the only ones either. There were a few other aircraft flying in from other places in New England."
Valera said the association has offered similar services in the past to local agencies during times of crisis but the effort to help hurricane Sandy victims was the first in which their services as pilots was taken up.
"Members are more than happy to offer their time and planes to help," insisted Valera. "We're always looking for opportunities. You can't wait for government agencies to come out and help. Sometimes, private citizens have to take a hand themselves. Often, for people who've been struck by disaster, if you live in another part of the country, it's a case of out of sight, out of mind. In this case, we just felt we had to help those poor people."
Archer expressed satisfaction with the performance of the association and recommended that others do what they can to help not only those struck by hurricane Sandy but anyone in need of aid.
"There were other groups that helped out," said Archer of the airlift. "We weren't the only ones. There were people flying things in from other parts of the country, too. We were just one group helping out."
For information, check with the association at its website, fitchburgpilots.org.