Westport man flies personal plane into ravaged Caribbean with needed supplies
Published 12:00 am, Monday, October 9, 2017
WESTPORT — Paul Weismann has been flying since he was 16, though he doesn’t fly professionally.
Still, after hurricanes ravaged much of the Caribbean, the Westport resident, investment fund manager and Patient Airlift Services volunteer felt compelled to act.
“They called me (Sept. 25),” said Weismann, speaking from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday. “On (Sept. 26) I met up with another volunteer who came down from Massachusetts with his pickup truck full of generators and water.”
The pair left that day for San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Weismann’s Cessna Citation plane, bringing with them supplies to assist the air control officers struggling to regulate the country’s airspace and allow in aid after Hurricane Maria’s high winds and heavy rains left airports crippled.
“It was kind of a disaster. The airspace was closed and all the air traffic equipment was damaged,” Weismann said.
But the 45-year-old’s job was not complete with the drop-off of the items.
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“There are a lot of people there trying to get out of Puerto Rico. All manner of people from all over the country,” Weismann said. “We parked our planes under the wings of the (Boeing) 737s there and we picked up a few people.”
Among the group he brought back to Fort Lauderdale were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and an Army Ranger.
Ever since he responded to PAL’s request for aid on Sept. 25, Weismann has been in Florida, using Fort Lauderdale as his home base to make emergency runs to the Caribbean. So far, Weismann has made two trips to Puerto Rico and one to the nearby island nation of Dominica.
“Dominica is pancaked. It’s basically an island rainforest with a high mountain in the center. The forests are tree trunks now. All the roofs in the villages are gone — there are just debris fields,” Weismann said. “People at the airport were pretty shell-shocked.”
As for Puerto Rico, Weismann said the population density and the large number of people without food, water and medical supplies has caused specific problems.
“There are so many people on that island. The military, police and first responders are trying to distribute supplies and keep order, but crime is a big problem,” he said. “People are desperate.”
Despite his heroic efforts, Weismann was quick to point out how PAL coordinated his trips.
“Patient AirLift Services has been arranging free air transportation for medical, compassionate, humanitarian and military flights since 2010 through the general aviation pilot population,” said PAL Marketing Director Jackie Pecora.
Begun in 2010, PAL aimed to help people with life-threatening or chronic conditions with out-of-state medical appointments. When natural disasters strike — such as the Haitian earthquake or Superstorm Sandy, PAL’s volunteers are mobilized to send aid. Recently, PAL and partnering Sky Hope Network volunteers have made hundreds of flights to areas affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
According to Weismann, he would not have been able to make the trips he did without the logistical help of PAL and Sky Hope Disaster Relief.
“I’m just a guy with a plane,” he said.