Publication: The Gazette; Date:2005 Sep 15; Section:Metro; Page Number 21
Pilots a godsend for storm victims
By CARY LEIDER VOGRIN THE GAZETTE
Call it a pilot project for Hurricane Katrina.
Aviators at the Meadow Lake Airport in Falcon have flown two mercy missions to Mississippi and are considering other requests to retrieve storm victims seeking shelter in Colorado.
The first flight took off a day after Colorado Springs resident Kimberly Akerlund called the airport asking if a plane and pilot were available to fly to Mississippi to pick up relatives from the small town of Crystal Springs.
Akerlund talked to a guy named Bob, who gave her the name and number of a pilot named Alan.
"I gave him a ring, and he called me back immediately," she said of Alan von Ahlefeldt of Black Forest. "He was just going to do it, no questions asked."
"I just cried. I couldn’t believe it. He did this out of the goodness of his heart."
Von Ahlefeldt, who has 9,000 hours of flying under his wing, said he didn’t give his answer much thought.
"That just seemed like the thing to do," he said. "I was just a taxi driver to get down there and get the people."
He said when he stopped for refueling in Oklahoma, one of his passengers, whose home lost its roof, went inside a convenience store and plopped down a $20 bill. "She said, ‘That sir, is for a glass of ice water, if you have one,’" von Ahlefeldt said.
"Twenty dollars for a glass of ice water, so you know people were kind of stressed," he said, adding that the passengers were treated to large cups of cold water and plenty of ice.
Pilot Mark Shook said he was at the airport when von Ahlefeldt’s plane landed back at Meadow Lake on Sept. 2 with Akerlund’s four relatives. It wasn’t long before he got a call himself.
Colorado Springs resident Trish Sevits wondered if Shook might fly to Picayune, Miss., to get her sister, who was in need of medical care.
Shook and co-pilot David Bennett set off Sunday and picked up Darleane Durham and her sons, JP, 7, and Caleb, 6. Durham was scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy and was in severe pain, but her surgery was canceled when Hurricane Katrina knocked out power.
Durham is seeking medical attention in Colorado Springs, and she and her husband, who’s in Mississippi, are deciding whether to move here permanently.
"My sister’s been trying to get me to come to Colorado for quite some time," said Durham, who had never been here before last week.
She said she liked what she saw from the air.
"The view — when the Rocky Mountains came into view, the closer we got, I fell in love before we even got out of the plane," she said.
She said the family has long talked of moving. If not here, then they’ll head to Dallas, where they also have family. Durham said their house in Picayune is for sale. The house itself sustained little damage, although every tree on the property fell and they are still without power.
Trish Sevits said she couldn’t believe the pilots volunteered for the flights, which cost more than $700 apiece in fuel alone. The Falcon Professional Development League, a group of business owners, put $2,000 in a fund to help cover aviation fuel.
"I was so overwhelmed," Sevits said. "I was just blown away. When I told my sister, she was pretty much in shock, too. She said, ‘For free?!’"
HOW TO HELP
For information on flights or to donate medical supplies or other goods for pilots to ferry to the hurricane area, call Meadow Lake Airport at 683-3062.
THE GAZETTE - In need of surgery that was canceled when Katrina hit, Darleane Durham, left, of Picayune, Miss., flew to Colorado Springs courtesy of a pilot at Meadow Lake Airport whom her sister Trish Sevits, right, contacted.