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The Great Canadian Airlift

General Aviation to the Rescue

By Steve Drinkwater for Canadian Aviator, Jan/Feb 2022.

In what can only be described as an extraordinary effort by a large group of pilots and light aircraft owners and operators, a fleet of aircraft mobilized to rescue stranded motorists and their passengers and bring both emergency and ongoing supplies to communities stranded by the flood disaster that hit southwestern British Columbia in November of 2021.

Immediately after the rain stopped and the magnitude of the disaster became apparent, a call went out, amplified by the email lists of local flying clubs, flight training schools, airport user groups and, most effectively, the 3,000-strong BC General Aviation Association, calling for aircraft and pilots to help rescue those stranded by the closure of roads and highways in the Fraser Valley. Hope, with its 3,960-foot now-water-saturated grass strip (CYHE), was the initial destination as there were hundreds stranded there, unable to travel west on the Trans-Canada Highway or any secondary highways, or back north or east to where they were coming from.

Shaun Heaps, owner of the Langley-based West Coast Pilot Club, was one of those who leapt into action. With five small aircraft in his club’s fleet, he cancelled all previously booked flights and, with volunteer pilots at the controls, took to the skies. The initial destination was Hope, then Chilliwack (CYCW) further down the Valley, also isolated due to flooded highways, was added. Hundreds of stranded people were airlifted to those regional airports that still had road access to Vancouver’s metropolitan area.

“Heaps says he is already garnering lots of support from local politicians who recognize the need for a Canadian version of the Civilian Air Patrol, one that can be provided by existing resources.”

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Canadian Aviator is Canada’s independently owned magazine for pilots, future pilots and those interested in Canadian aviation. It is written by Canadian pilots for Canadians.