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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

December 12, 2012

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.