Pilot Sigmund Bering Sort has racked up a lot of air miles lately, all for a good cause.
The flight instructor, based at the Qualicum Beach airport, flew his four-seater Cessna 172 to different parts of British Columbia to provide aid to communities severely affected by devastating flooding.
With cities and communities seeing highways and major arteries closed due to mudslides, sinkholes and broken bridges, and people stranded or separated from their families for long periods of time, Sort immediately offered its services via social media. .
He learned that the Langley-based West Coast Pilot Club had started an aviation rescue mission. Another club member told Sort that a plane owner, Mark Ahnert, of Pitt Meadows, was looking for an experienced pilot to get people out of flood-ravaged areas. Sort immediately called Ahnert, who set up an air service center at his Kia dealership in Coquitlam.
Sort said he flew to Pitt Meadows the next day, but Ahnert’s plane was not ready. He was asked if he was prepared to use his own plane to help evacuate people stranded in Hope, which he did.
âThat’s how I started,â Sort said. âOn my first flight, I evacuated a lot of single mothers who were trying to find their children who are home alone. A lady was away from most of her children for four nights. It was surreal, like a war zone. It was a gigantic operation.
Sort was eventually able to fly Ahnert’s plane to help evacuate people, then joined the West Coast Pilot Club in Langley where, piloting his own plane, he was tasked with transporting food and essential supplies to various isolated communities such as Hope, Chilliwack, Boston. Bar, Lytton and Merritt. Sort said his small plane was carrying around 350 to 400 pounds of cargo per trip.
âI have never met so many people who shake and cry and tremble, so happy to see you,â Sort said. âIt has been a crazy human experience. It hits you in the heart, big man. “
These communities, Sort said, will continue to need help. He noted that there would be no “normalcy” anytime soon for many communities in British Columbia.
âThese people have no milk. They don’t have eggs. They don’t have any products, âSort said. âThere is no highway to bring it and there is no government, provincial or federal helicopter. There is no airlift apart from us, the small planes arriving. We all scratch our heads. And when I say “we” there are a lot of people in that mix, whether it’s air traffic controllers, pilots, or boots on the ground loading and unloading these planes.
Having already experienced flooding at his Parksville home, Sort knows all too well that the recovery process will take some time.
âWhen the water recedes, you just start that long road back to normal,â Sort said. âAnd after you’ve cleaned your house from mud and debris, you need to replace your floors, damaged belongings, furnitureâ¦ and so on. All the people who have had flooding and mud in their homes, businesses, and farm buildings, they’re going to be there for months and months and the general public will sort of forget about them.
Sort said he would continue to volunteer, but with the wintry weather, flying every day might not be possible.
âIt has put a wrinkle on the number of charges we can now send to these communities,â he said.
Another Qualicum Beach pilot, Greg Howard, has also donated his plane to rescue operations when he is free from his professional duties as a municipal firefighter.
Anyone else wishing to donate or become a volunteer pilot can contact Shaun Heaps at 604-866-6705. Donations can be sent by electronic transfer to [email protected] (password: helicopter).
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