Pilot Sigmund Bering Sort has been logging plenty of air miles lately – all for a good cause.
The flight instructor, based out of the Qualicum Beach Airport, has been flying his Cessna 172 four-seater to different areas of B.C. to provide assistance to communities severely impacted by devastating floods.
With towns and communities seeing highways and major arteries shut down due to mudslides, sinkholes and broken bridges and people stranded or separated from families for extended periods, Sort immediately offered his services via social media.
He learned the West Coast Pilot Club based out of Langley started an aviation relief mission. A fellow club member informed Sort that a plane owner, Mark Ahnert, from Pitt Meadows was looking for an experienced pilot to fly people out of the flood-ravaged areas. Sort immediately called Ahnert, who organized an air service centre at his Kia dealership in Coquitlam.
Sort said he flew to Pitt Meadows the next day but the Ahnert’s plane was not ready. He was asked if he was willing to use his own plane to help evacuate some stranded people in Hope, so he did.
“That’s how I got started,” said Sort. “On my first flight, I evacuated a lot of single moms who were trying to get back to their children who are home alone. One lady was away from most of her kids for four nights. It was surreal, like a war zone. It was a mammoth operation.”
Sort eventually got to fly Ahnert’s plane to help evacuate people and then joined the West Coast Pilot Club in Langley where, flying his own plane, he was assigned to transport food and essential supplies to various cut-off communities such as Hope, Chilliwack, Boston Bar, Lytton and Merritt. Sort said his small plane carried approximately 350 to 400 pounds of goods per trip.
“I have never met so many people who are trembling, weeping and shaking, so happy to see you,” said Sort. “It has been a crazy human experience. It hits you in the core, big-time.”
Those communities, Sort said, will continue to need assistance. He noted there will be no ‘normal’ anytime soon for many British Columbia communities.
“These people don’t have milk. They don’t have eggs. They don’t have produce,” said Sort. “There’s no highway to bring it in and there’s no government helicopter or whether it’s provincial or federal. There’s no airlift except for us little airplanes coming in. We’re all scratching our heads. And when I say ‘we’, it’s lot of people in this mix, whether it’s air traffic controllers, pilots or boots on the ground loading and unloading these planes.”
Having previously experienced flooding at his home in Parksville, Sort knows too well the recovery process will take some time.
“When the water recedes, you’re just beginning that long road back towards normal,” said Sort. “And after you have cleared your house of mud and debris, you have to replace your floors, the damaged goods, furniture… on and on it goes. All the people who had flood water and mud in their homes, their businesses and their farm buildings, they’re going to be at it for months and months and the general public will kind of forget about them.”
Sort said he will continue to volunteer but with the winter weather, flying every day might not be possible.
“It has put a wrinkle on just how many loads of stuff we can get out to these communities now,” he said.
Another Qualicum Beach pilot, Greg Howard, has also been volunteering his plane to the relief operations when he is free from his work commitments as a town firefighter.
Qualicum Beach Coun. Robert Filmer, at the town’s regular council meeting on Dec. 8, commended both Sort and Howard for their selfless contribution.
“They have been able to really help out and that deserves some type of recognition,” said Filmer.
Anyone else wishing to donate or become pilot volunteers can contact Shaun Heaps at 604-866-6705. Donations can be sent via e-transfer to Langleyjets@gmail.com (Password: helicopter).