BOHLKE PROVIDES HURRICANE RELIEF FOLLOWING IRMA AND MARIA
The past few months have been some of the busiest in the near 60-year history of Bohlke International Airways. Despite the devastating blows of Hurricanes Irma and Maria to the Caribbean (including our home of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands), we could not be prouder of our team banding together to support relief efforts around-the-clock.
Hurricane Irma made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 7. St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands were hit heavily by this category five hurricane, a mere 43-miles north of St. Croix. Our home island only experienced a brush with Irma's outer bands, causing power outages and minimal damage. This result, combined with our close proximity to heavily affected islands, overnight made St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen Airport into Caribbean relief headquarters. Our tarmac was suddenly crowded with C-17 aircraft, Blackhawk and osprey helicopters. In addition to the U.S. military, we also hosted the Royal Air Force as they responded to this natural disaster in the BVIs. The passenger terminal at STX was transformed into a temporary triage, as there was a massive medical evacuation effort. This helped both people injured or ill during the storm and those evacuated from Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas.
During the near two weeks between Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Bohlke International Airways was buzzing with first responders from the military, organizations like FEMA and a group of medical evacuation companies led by our partner AeroMD. The Bohlke team stepped up to facilitate this overnight influx of hundreds of people arranging work spaces, meals, housing, et cetera. They showed-up 24/7 to facilitate and re-fuel aircraft for rescue missions. Bohlke team members normally at desks were driving courtesy vans on the apron, to get all relief personnel where they needed to be quickly. We off-loaded and housed hurricane relief supplies in our main hangar, while helping to organize distribution via military helicopters and private boats. We flew and assisted national media, who ventured to the U.S. Virgin Islands to cover the story.
But a mere 12 days after Irma, Hurricane Maria made landfall on St. Croix September 19. This was a metrological anomaly, as another category five hurricane taking roughly the same path through the Caribbean. Bohlke's main hangar was damaged during Maria, however, our charter fleet had repositioned to safety in Curacao.
The Bohlke team again showed up in full force to enable relief efforts to arrive and re-fuel post-Maria, despite their homes being damaged and children's schools shut down. The work of the line, maintenance and customer service groups was especially important during this time.
Our own FBO Manager Brandon Coleman was the first person on-site at STX airport after Hurricane Maria. He assembled a team to start clearing debris from the runway, so that the first military relief traffic could land. Jeff Sutton of Reach Communications was imperative to restoring communications at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
The Bohlke pilot group also rose to the occasion after the hurricanes, despite numerous obstacles. As regional air traffic control equipment in Puerto Rico sustained severe damage, flying through the Caribbean was difficult. Puerto Rico sustaining a direct eye hit from Maria also created challenges with customs clearance. Heavy rains continued to plague the region for many weeks after Hurricane Maria. All things considered, despite illness and personal challenges on top of situational issues, our pilot group performed at the highest level.
We applaud the entire Bohlke team for responding to both Hurricanes Irma and Maria with the utmost commitment to serving our Caribbean community. We remain devoted to extended restoration and rebuilding efforts.