Helicopter pilot discovers villagers stranded in debris in the Bahamas
A helicopter pilot volunteering in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian was shocked to discover this week that an area full of debris from the storm was inhabited by up to 40 people.
Justin Johnson, who owns Timberview Helicopters in Destin, Florida, with his wife, Angela, was heading to Fox Town on Little Abaco Island. The couple was in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas with MEDIC Corps, a volunteer group that serves people affected by natural disasters.
“Being there, you can’t process that that really just happened,” Angela Johnson said about the devastation left by the storm, which flattened whole towns and left at least 50 people dead.
While flying over Little Abaco, Vic Micolucci, a Jacksonville, Florida, news reporter who went along for the ride, pointed out a debris field and asked Justin Johnson whether anyone could be down there.
Angela Johnson said her husband and another volunteer shrugged off the idea, saying it was likely just a pile of rubbish.
But after thinking about it, Justin Johnson decided to stop in the area the next day while on a supply run to Fox Town.
“He had this intuition that he had to fly back over,” Angela Johnson said.
When he landed at the site, people began crawling out of the debris all around him. He rushed back to his wife and began gathering supplies.
“Pack up everything,” he said. “That place [the reporter] found has 30 to 40 people living in it.”
They pulled together tents, water and food. With the help of MEDIC Corps, they were able to take a couple loads of supplies back to the stranded people.
MEDIC Corps said the village had been overlooked because it was off main roads, and the residents didn’t have vehicles or speak English. The stranded people were in desperate need of supplies and support, the group said in a statement.
Many were undocumented Haitian immigrants who “are afraid of being deported so it is sometimes difficult to provide evacuation to these communities and they aren’t the first to show themselves,” MEDIC Corps said.
Angela Johnson said the villagers were deeply appreciative of the supplies.
“They were dancing, hands raised up to the heavens,” she said.
Earlier in the week, the Johnsons rescued three young children who’d been stranded on a broken road in the Abacos. The Johnsons were on a supply run when they came across a man who told them some children who he needed to get to were stuck somewhere nearby.
The Johnsons soon pieced together that he was looking for his grandchildren, ages 3, 6 and 10. Without knowing exactly where to go, the Johnsons set off to find them.
Angela Johnson said the children had been dropped off by boat to meet their parents, but the children were unable to reach them because they were on the other side of a road that had “completely collapsed,” and a strong current was running through it.
Despite running low on fuel and not knowing where they were heading, the Johnsons managed to find the children and take them to their grandparents.
In a Facebook post, Angela Johnson described it as their “favorite rescue so far.”