Bahamas Habitat

(L-R) Dave Spangler, Steve Merritt, Dave Robertson, Matt Hansen, Ken DeYoung and Cameron King

Bahamas Habitat began a few years ago as a small group of U.S.-based pilots with a desire to volunteer their planes and skills to help the people of the islands of the Bahamas recover from the damage visited upon them by tropical storms. They organized “Fly In & Help Out” weekends, encouraging pilots of small airplanes to transport supplies and good will to the least fortunate of those who live on a chain of islands many see as paradise.

The nonprofit was the brainchild of two North Carolina friends, John Armstrong and Steve Merritt, both well-connected with pilots around the southeast who would volunteer to pay their own way to fly planes loaded with building supplies and volunteers to Eleuthera to work on someone’s destroyed roof, or help build a home from scratch. Armstrong and Merritt were smart enough to sweeten the deal by including a little non-work time to sample a beautiful beach, or a mini fly-out to another island for lunch.

Their small but effective organization soon earned a loyal following with aviators who wanted to help, and it was this core group of dedicated pilots who would prove invaluable when the earth shifted and devastated  Port-Au-Prince and surrounding towns and villages. In that instant, the mission of Bahamas Habitat grew exponentially.

Less than 48 hours after the dust began to settle, the first island-based Bahamas Habitat pilot was dropping off supplies in Port-Au-Prince, and by the next day, Steve Merritt and another North Carolina pilot had flown from the Tar Heel state to Florida, and then on to Nassau. There they picked up a doctor and a nurse and filled nearly every inch of the remaining space in a donated Baron with medical supplies and made the first of  many runs to Cap Haitien, Haiti.

Critically needed supplies being delivered in Cap Haiten, Haiti

By the third day four planes were flying, carrying supplies and medical help in and bringing people out.  As the volunteer response accelerated, a temporary “command center” was created at the Odyssey FBO in Nassau, run by young volunteers who quickly grew into the job. Over the next few months,  over 125 volunteer pilots of Bahamas Habitat flew over 400 missions and carried relief workers and tons of supplies to help alleviate the suffering and despair of Haitians.

Lives were saved and bodies repaired because of these pilots.  They saw a need and took action. They flew long days over water into uncertain and sometimes nearly chaotic conditions, missed meals, put avgas on credit cards and then slept on floors so that they could do it again the next day.

Later, Armstrong and Merritt and a number of the volunteers would travel once again, but this time to the Capitol Building in Washington, DC to receive the the 2010 Outstanding Achievement in Public Benefit Flying Award. If ever a group deserved such an honor, it was the pilots and volunteers of Bahamas Habitat.