Volunteer pilots flying from Langley airport delivered close to 20,000 pounds of relief supplies to flood-ravaged B.C. communities on Sunday.
In just a few days, organizer Shaun Heaps said the all-volunteer effort has grown from two fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter to 24 fixed-wing planes and two helicopters.
“We have tons and tons of support,” Heaps commented.
Heaps said the helicopters have allowed donations of food and other needed supplies to be directly delivered to isolated rural Indigenous communities.
“It’s landing in a field and then taking off,” is how Heaps described it to the Langley Advance Times.
Deliveries are being flown to various communities hit hard by floods that followed record rainfall, including Hope, Merritt, Princeton and Lillooet, Heaps said.
“I don’t really know exactly how it started,” Heaps said during a brief break between loading planes Sunday.
“I just started getting phones from friends that were trapped in Hope, so we got planes out of Langley, and a helicopter and that’s how it all started. We were flying food out that people were donating, and we dropped food in Hope and Chilliwack, [and were] picking people up and bringing them back.”
Area Sikh temples have accounted for the bulk of food contributions, Heaps estimated.
However, the very first day of the effort, on Tuesday Nov. 16, was interrupted when all flights were shut down in the afternoon as a result of a dispute between the airport and NAV Canada, operators of the air traffic control tower.
Heaps called it “insane.”
The volunteers were able to relocate to a nearby airfield, and eventually, the emergency flights were allowed to resume, from one runway in Langley.
In response to a Langley Advance Times query, NAV Canada released a statement saying the “decision to restrict access to the runways was made solely by the airport authority without involvement from NAV Canada.”
It went on to say that NAV Canada, the Airport Authority and Transport Canada “have been engaged in collaborative discussions as recently as last Friday to find a solution to a concern identified by the airport authority. We had no prior notice of the airport’s intent to close the airport and remained available to provide a safe service even throughout the closure.”
Heaps said the volunteer relief effort will continue as long as the weather cooperates.
“Very happy to see all the people coming together to help with the state of emergency we are in,” he said.
Donations have been flooding in to the collection point at the West Coast Pilot club, located at Hangar 2 at 5333 216th St., next to the aviation museum.
Donors and pilot volunteers can contact Heaps at 604-866-6705.
He is also hoping to collect cash to help cover the fuel costs for pilots.
Donations can be sent via e-transfer to Langleyjets@gmail.com (Password: helicopter).
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