Volunteer Helicopter Team Discovers Stranded Villagers in the Bahamas

A helicopter pilot conducting volunteer flights in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian discovered nearly 40 people stranded in a destroyed area. The discovery was made during flights to hurricane-ravaged areas of Little Abaco Island with MEDIC Corps, a volunteer group that helps people affected by natural disasters.

Justin Johnson, owner of Timberview Helicopters, and his wife Angela Bartlett-Johnson were traveling to Fox Town on Little Abaco Island with reporter Vic Micolucci when they first noticed a debris field below, NBC News reported. The Jacksonville, Florida reporter asked Justin if anyone could be in the debris field, but the volunteers dismissed the notion.

However, Justin decided to revisit the area on the following day while conducting a supply run to Fox Town, his wife said. “He had this intuition that he had to fly back over,” Angela told NBC News.

The pilot’s intuition proved to be correct. When he arrived at the site, he said that survivors of the storm began to crawl out of the debris. He immediately ran to his wife to collect supplies for the survivors.

“Pack up everything,” he reportedly told her. “That place [that reporter] found has 30 to 40 people living in it.”

According to NBC News, the couple gathered tents, water, and food for the stranded people. The couple and MEDIC Corps later transported more supplies to the stranded group. The organization, which is collecting donations to support the relief effort in the Bahamas, said the area had been ignored because it was not accessible from main roads and its inhabitants did not have cars or speak English.

Many of the survivors are undocumented Haitian immigrants who “are afraid of being deported so it is sometimes difficult to provide evacuations to these communities and they aren’t the first to show themselves,” MEDIC Corps told NBC News in a statement. The organization did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.

Angela Bartlett-Johnson told the network that those stranded were appreciative of the much-needed supplies.

“Timberview Helicopters has been blessed to be able to offer assistance alongside so many others helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas,” the couple’s company wrote on Facebook on September 10. “The devastation is indescribable and even these videos can’t begin to compare to the real situation that occurred and is still being experienced by the Bahamas residents.”

Many aid groups continue to bring relief into the areas devastated by the storm. This includes a World War II-era plane, called Miss Montana, that began its journey to the Bahamas on September 14, where it will help deliver meals to Bahamians in need. According to CNN, the volunteer pilots hope to deliver 40,000 meals per day.

Miss Montana will also deliver backpacks filled with supplies thanks to about $5,000 in donations. The backpacks will contain items desperately needed by hurricane survivors. “People are moving from shelter to shelter and school to school or wherever they can sleep, and it gives them something to be able to put their stuff in to take,” volunteer Tia Komberec told KECI.

Hurricane Dorian unleashed a flood of destruction and death after bombarding the island nation of the Bahamas earlier this month. The government has warned that the death toll number is expected to rise from the estimated 51 deaths that have been confirmed so far.

Anthony Ferguson, commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, confirmed on September 8 that 42 bodies had been found in Abaco and another eight were found on Grand Bahama. Three days later, government officials downsized the number of missing persons from 2,500 to 1,300 after cross-referencing the list of missing and evacuated residents, Buzzfeed News reported.

Rescue teams have had a difficult time looking for the bodies of those killed by the Category 5 storm. This has been particularly true for the primarily poor, Haitian immigrant communities of Marsh Harbour, the Mudd, and Pigeon Peas, which have been leveled.

Dr. Crystal deGregory, a historian and writer, was in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian and is helping with the recovery efforts. A proud native of the Bahamas, deGregory described the situation on the ground in an interview with The North Star.

"Virtually everyone on the island is working around the clock to restore some sense of normalcy and to maintain hope. The power, water, and garbage companies deserve a lot of credit for their part in the restoration of electricity and/or water services to some, and the clearing of natural debris and heaps [of] garbage that before Dorian, represented the contents of people’s homes and the sum of their life’s work."

"Even as casualties mount, we still have yet to deal with the soul-crushing weight of a staggering death toll. With this level of trauma, most people don’t know what day of the week it is. Constantly confronting crisis does not easily lend itself to focusing on a host of things including the day’s date," she added.

Victims were caught beneath homes, vehicles, large debris, and even shipping containers as the storm swirled above.

“The Mudd has a much higher [number of bodies] but you can’t get to them,” Mark Pullen, the leader of a Canadian team of dogs and volunteers searching for the dead, told Buzzfeed News. “The dogs were hitting on them, but they were so far down we couldn’t get there. It’s very difficult.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.