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Publisher's Letter

Publisher's Letter: Aviation Report of a Disaster

The relief effort for the massive Hurricane Dorian damage in the Bahamas involves every mode of transportation available. It takes one back in history to June of 1940, and a place called Dunkirk in France. There the remnants of a French army and most of the British Expeditionary Force were surrounded by German forces. The only way out was by sea from a place that had no natural port.

The call for help was heeded by hundreds of British boat owners, non-military people who voluntarily crossed the rough English Channel in craft small enough to enter shallow waters. There, soldiers waded out to meet them, often protecting their rifles by raising them above their heads, and were escorted to larger ships. In a week’s time, more than 300,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated, saving a force of trained men that eventually was part of a winning coalition. Those citizen saviors did not ask for permission or need visas, or any other authority. They just got in their boats and did it.

Today, under vastly different circumstances, hundreds of  small civilian boats and private aircraft have been crisscrossing the 100 miles of water delivering supplies and bringing back refugees who have lost everything but their lives. There are so many vehicles involved that they are literally getting in each other’s way, creating confusion and even shutting down some small airports as organizations that run them are overwhelmed by the traffic. Add to that red tape and delays on both the islands and U.S. airports by officials who have never seen such challenges and insist on playing by the book when Dunkirk speed is needed.

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A vivid description of the situation comes to us indirectly by way of our friend and local investment manager Nik Bjelajac. He in turn is forwarding reports sent to him by David Ehlers, an investment advisor (we wrote about him in the 1970s) who made his fortune in South Florida and now lives in Las Vegas. He has been receiving messages from his friend, a pilot named Peter Vasquez.

Vasquez is a natural writer with much to say about his and many others trying to help in an unprecedented emergency. Among his stories is that of a man identified only as WARLOCK, apparently a retired air controller, who seeing the chaos in air space at a Bahamian airport, improvised an air control system to help relieve congestion and provide safety for the many planes trying to take off and land.

It is a coincidence that Eric Barton’s piece (page 30) on a novel seaplane company based in South Florida was scheduled for this issue. The company, founded by a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, already had routes established to the Bahamas, and seaplanes have more flexibility in finding  emergency landing spots, especially in an area surrounded by water.

This company was launched a few years after another company in the seaplane business, Chalk’s International Airlines, shut down. That company was also started by a former military aviator. He flew in World War I and started his service in South Florida in 1919. Our only flight on a seaplane was on that airline—to the Bahamas, of course.

The combination of seaplanes and the U.S. Navy strikes a nostalgic chord, at least with those few of us who remember Lt. j.g. Tommy McCormick. Our cousin flew a Kingfisher observation floatplane off the Battleship Tennessee. He was killed over Iwo Jima in February 1945. A confidential after battle report discovered 60 years later suggested that he was likely hit by friendly fire from the big guns arcing their shells over his low flying plane.

So as you think about and pray for the poor souls in the Bahamas, you might remember cousin Tommy as well.