Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cleveland's Aitheras Aviation helps save lives in Caribbean after Hurricane Irma

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Aitheras Aviation Group, an air ambulance service based at Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland, pitched in to save lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

An Aitheras Aviation airplane outfitted with medical equipment transported more than 30 sick and injured people in the U.S. Virgin Islands to safety, said Marc Goldfarb, director of business logistics.

The company sent two flight crews to the Caribbean island last week, so that it could operate around the clock. "So far it's going good," he said. "We're saving lives and getting people where they need to be."

The company's employees were "anxious to go. All they want to do is help," Goldfarb said.

Aitheras was prepared to send fresh crews, but learned Wednesday that the operation is ending. Its plane and crew are expected home soon.

"I think they'll say they did a good job and contributed to saving a lot of lives," Goldfarb said.

A FEMA contractor asked Aitheras Aviation to help with rescue operations, Goldfarb said. The company's air ambulance took storm victims from the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is a 20-minute round trip.

Goldfarb said his company attempted to donate their time and services to the rescue efforts, but the FEMA contractor said the work had to be billed.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a group of small islands located east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. This U.S. territory has three main islands - St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

Aitheras Aviation's rescue operation helps patients in hospitals affected by Hurricane Irma, as well as victims injured by the storm. The company's plane, a Cessna Citation, carries a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner and three passengers along with a pilot and co-pilot.

Cleveland-based dispatchers stayed in communication with FEMA's base in St. Croix and the company's flight crew to coordinate flights.

Goldfarb said his crew didn't have time to describe the devastation they are seeing.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, lashed several Caribbean islands with winds of up to 185 mph and heavy rain last week, according to the Guardian. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma was the most powerful storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, the Guardian said.

The Florida Keys, which also were hit, are grappling with destroyed homes and loss of power. Irma's death toll continues to be tallied.

This is the first time that Aitheras Aviation, founded in 2005, has been asked to help during a natural disaster, but Goldfarb is glad that a Cleveland firm was able to lend support.

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