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October 21, 2014
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Local pilots, medics fly relief missions to Haiti; The gift of helping people one flight at a time

Mike Lovelace, vice president of Archangel Airborne, left, and volunteer Andy Aslanian of Ft. Lee, NJ, (also under the wing) are joined by two unidentified volunteers as they ready a plane to deliver donated supplies to communities hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Contributed photo


CHERRY RIDGE, PA — Starting more than two years ago, a group of pilots, nurses and doctors from our region began flying missions of mercy to Haiti. You may call them angels, if you want, but they call their organization Archangel Airborne. Recently their help was needed closer to home when, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, they organized relief flights to several hard-hit communities in New Jersey and on Staten Island and Long Island.

Because of the hurricane, local roads were so blocked that no traffic could get through, explained Thomas “Mike” Lovelace, who runs the operations base Archangel uses at Cherry Ridge Airport outside of Honesdale. “We got a distress call from one of our members, who lives in Toms River, NJ, asking us to fly in a generator and any other essential supplies that we could gather,” Lovelace said.

Archangel Airborne was started two years ago by Lovelace and Stuart Hirsh, a hospital administrator who also pilots a Medevac operation that flies people to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY. It turns out Hirsch already knew something about Haiti as he had spent several months there when he was a Jesuit seminarian. The grinding poverty he saw there affected him.

Hirsch recalled his first flights to Haiti. “We had started to fly medical supplies to Haiti before the earthquake,” Hirsch said, referring to the January 2010 earthquake that claimed an estimated 230,000 lives and left 1.3 million Haitians homeless. “When the earthquake hit, the need for assistance exploded. It was then that we sought out doctors and nurses in the area to join us in assisting the hospitals and doctors of Haiti.”

Their first flights were focused on aiding a hospital in the city of Les Cayes and on an island called “Ile a Vache.” In the last two years, the group has made several trips to the island, spending two weeks each time, distributing supplies and dispensing medical care to people in need. Hirsch also helped found four medical clinics in the rural areas around Port-a-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

The group had just made its most recent flight to Haiti in November, and then Hurricane Sandy hit here at home.

“It was a natural for us to go into the distressed areas of New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island since we were in between trips to Haiti,” Lovelace reported.

Five separate planes—some owned by TML Aircraft, a company owned by Lovelace, plus private planes owned by people who wanted to help—carried tons of supplies to the Lakewood Airport in New Jersey. “Luckily, the airport was not under water like the rest of the town,” he recalled. At Lakewood, volunteers with an SUV, two cars and a truck distributed the supplies to those who needed it.

Archangel also coordinated delivery of some supplies by truck to areas where there were no landing fields in Staten Island and in a critical area of Long Island. One of those trucks, provided by Rick Linde, the owner of Leeward Construction, Inc., delivered supplies gathered in the Honesdale area.

One essential item they were able to fly in was a 400-horsepower generator.

“Matt Rudder, one of our members, asked for a heavy-duty commercial generator, which he used to supply all of his neighbors with water, which they lacked. A ground vehicle transported fuel for the generator separately.” A few weeks later, when the floodwater receded, local stores reopened, and Archangel’s flights were no longer necessary, allowing the group to refocus their concentration on their original mission in Haiti.

There, they have two goals—to set up medical clinics and to train first responders.

“The clinics are set up for basic first-aid, hemorrhage treatment, fracture stabilization and spinal stabilization,” Lovelace said. “Students in the first-responder classes learn to respond [to emergencies] using only the resources they currently have in their villages, thereby making the training sustainable on a longer–term basis in areas where there is no established medical care present.”

Hirsch and Lovelace have plans to expand their operation to assist any community that is in distress for any reason and that needs their kind of air capability.

“We’ve discovered how effective our operation can be and how it can serve other areas,” Lovelace said. “We plan to get a bigger plane that can carry double what we carry to Haiti. Since this airport [at Cherry Ridge] has a sufficiently long runway, why not get a bigger plane?”

The group raises money by performing at musical venues, and hopes to perform at The Cooperage in Honesdale in the near future.

Anyone wishing to assist the group either by joining them or by contributing funds can contact info@archangelairborne.org or by calling 914/799-5273.

[Every once in a while you hear a story about someone who gave or received a life-changing gift during the year-end holiday season. The River Reporter is looking for an individual with just such a heart-warming personal story to share. We are calling this feature “A Gift from the Heart” and we want to tell several of these stories in our newspaper during December. If you are someone with such a story to share or know someone, kindly contact jbollinger@riverreporter.com or call 845/252/7414, ext. 29. Join us in celebrating the joy of the season with our readers.]