By Rita Sherwood
On Sept. 10, locals Justin, a helicopter pilot, and his wife Angela Johnson, an ICU nurse, who have owned a helicopter tour company—Timberview Helicopters in Destin—for the last nine years, encountered more than they expected while helping with relief efforts and dropping supplies to the far North Abaco Islands during the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the strongest hurricane on record to ever hit the Bahamas.
The Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, the northernmost islands, were the hardest hit of the archipelago of islands when Dorian struck on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 hurricane. For two days, the monster storm sat over the islands battering them with wind gusts over 220 mph and storm surges that topped 20 feet in some areas. The official death toll remains at 56, but officials expect the number to rise radically, and as many as 600 people have been reported missing.
Justin and Angela had been partnering with Medic Corps, dropping off supplies and resources to remote towns throughout the most decimated parts of the Bahamas. On this particular day they had a passenger, Vic Micolucci, a Jacksonville-based reporter. While flying over a remote area of Abaco Island, Vic pointed out a destroyed village right in the middle and asked them if there was any chance that people could be living there. Justin said they had flown over it several times and had not seen any sign of people or movement.
However, on the next run, Angela said Justin felt an urge to fly a little closer and even land on the ground to check out Vic’s suspicions. To his amazement, and very slowly, one-by-one, roughly 30-40 people, mostly Haitian immigrants, reluctantly began climbing out of an overturned bus and rubble that they were taking shelter in to run to him for help.
Shocked, Justin quickly looped in the Medic Corps team, which had been organizing and facilitating supply pick-ups and drop-offs from Marsh Harbour’s airport, as well as collecting information about different habitation areas on the islands and directing resources to areas with critical needs. After Justin and Angela found the stranded survivors, they and a Blackhawk helicopter, flown by Love and Life Foundation, another non-profit, went back to the devastated community to take additional loads. Justin and Angela were greeted with people clapping and cheering when they delivered the supplies — boxes of food, water, baby supplies, tarps and other critical resources.
The Johnson’s encourage those who want to help to donate to Love and Life, which has plans for continued relief and future rebuild in the Abaco Islands.
And what’s next for this dynamic husband/wife duo? Justin says, “We’d definitely like to help more with disaster response. We helped in Panama City after Hurricane Michael and now in the Bahamas. We’re so grateful to have a good business which affords us time to give back, whether it’s locally or not.” He goes on to say, “Anything you do you are rewarded in spades; people think it might cost a lot to help others, but what happens is, your mindset changes from the expense to looking at the big picture, and how can we help and just get it done.”
Want to help locally with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts? Harbor Docks is accepting donations. You can drop off supplies at the restaurant or donate funds directly to an organization called Planting Peace that will purchase necessary supplies and relief aid. Also Destin Commons, in collaboration with The Sonder Project, Save the Closet and Rachal’s Recovery Relief Inc., is hosting a four-day donation drive, Oct. 3-6, where you can drop off items between Express and Steve Madden. For a list of items or more information, visit destincommons.com.
Be sure to check out Timberview Helicopters in Destin, located at the Destin Airport at 1001 Airport Road or call (850) 774-0991. For us locals, ask for the 10% discount and “See the Gulf like you’ve never seen it before!”