Hurricane Ian was a nasty son of a gun that threw us all for a loop. While our new buildings spared us from serious damage or prolonged interruption, the Paragon Flight family experienced varying degrees of impact on a personal level. We keep them in our hearts as they regain some semblance of normalcy.
For those of you outside Florida who haven’t followed post-Ian stories closely, trust me when I say there is this duality and surreal quality to it all. Looking at eight-foot-tall mounds of rubble on your street, partially standing structures, family treasures sitting by the curb waiting for garbage pick-up – yet at the same time, also seeing areas of minimal to no obvious damage nearby.
We resumed our flight training several weeks ago, and as we move toward business-as-usual territory, I’m compelled to show recognition to some of those humans whom went above and beyond, starting with our home airport, Page Field. We had a first-hand look at how efficiently Lee County Airport Authority handled both pre-hurricane preparation planning and post-hurricane triage and clean-up. Just a few hours after Ian passed, Page Field was literally transformed into ground zero with first responders coming from nearly every county in the state and supplies being flown in to help with the rescue effort. Invaluable to the effort were the first responder aviators and their crews flying Coast Guard helicopters, Army Chinooks and Blackhawks searching for and rescuing people on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva and the surrounding islands. For weeks, the sky over my house looked and sounded like a war zone with them swooping back and forth from Page Field to the islands.
I want to give a special thanks to Scott Sheets, Director of General Aviation at Page Field, and Ben Siegel, Executive Director of Lee County Airport Authority, both of whom showed what leadership is –even taking time out of their extremely busy week to personally check on Paragon Flight to see how we were faring.
I’ve never experienced anything like Ian and the devastation it brought; it was one of the darkest moments of my life. With that said, it was also a profoundly proud moment for me being part of the aviation industry, watching first-hand how aviation and these pilots were helping to save lives.
With everything going on, flight students were forced to shift gears in light of Ian. A few returned to their home states to continue their training – and we understand and respect that decision. At the same time, inquiries on flight training spiked almost immediately after Ian and we are now back to optimal student numbers. We are extremely grateful for the vote of confidence.
I want to share a pay-it-forward student story told to me by our Chief Flight Instructor, Jeff Wolf. One student who had just begun his training was not able to continue post-Ian. Instead of calling it quits, he generously transferred his paid training hours to his 16-year-old nephew who Ironically, is in the high school flight training program that Paragon Flight started at Evangelical Christian School (ECS) in 2014. Jeff, who also leads that program, recognized the nephew’s name immediately as one of the program’s most enthusiastic and engaged students.
I talk a lot about good humans. To that uncle, first responders, aviators, local leaders and especially our own team, I send a collective, “Thank you, good humans of Fort Myers,” for your public or private acts of support and kindness to each other and the community over the past month.