Pilots’ catastrophe training turns into food drive

Thanks to area volunteers, about 700 pounds in food donations soared across the North Olympic Peninsula last Saturday.

Several pilots with Disaster Aircraft Response Team (DART) of Clallam County gathered at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles on Sept. 15 before traveling to three airports — including the Sequim Valley Airport — to deliver donated non-perishable food to Sequim Food Bank officials.

DART chairman Alan Barnard said a planned pickup in Bellingham was initially delayed due to marginal weather conditions, but as conditions improved pilots flew to pick up food from a Bellingham Fred Meyer’s food drive for the special event.

In total, pilots made three flights to Sequim and Sekiu and one to Forks to deliver donated food from Bellingham and Saar’s in Port Angeles.

Andra Smith, Sequim Food Bank executive director, said members of the Peninsula Food Coalition met with Barnard in January about meshing the DART training exercise with a food drive.

Barnard coordinated the training event to test his Clallam County Disaster Airlift Response Plan and test how pilots and planes could help in a catastrophic event, such as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Barnard said he felt the training went well.

“We accomplished everything we had as objectives and we delivered all the food we collected,” he said.

A few of the objectives included assessing their system for inventorying items for transport, and assessing delivering bulk items via smaller aircraft to Forks and Sekiu.

Barnard said the DART plan was conceived in November 2016 and approved by Clallam County commissioners in January of this year.

Ray Ballantyne, a Sequim DART pilot, flew the food in from Port Angeles for Smith and Stephen Rosales, Sequim Food Bank board president, to pick up the first time at the Sequim Valley Airport. Ballantyne said he wants “to use what I have to help others.”

He and other pilots could help in transporting essentials, such as medicines, food, and/or people in and out of catastrophic areas, organizers said.

DART pilots are not reimbursed for their fuel due to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

Barnard said volunteers learned how to improve their procedures.

DART volunteers plan to host another full training exercise similar to this event in sometime in 2019 along with periodic ground support volunteer training events.

“My personal thanks to all the volunteer pilots and ground support,” Barnard said. “With their own time and money, they invested in saving the lives of their fellow citizens in Clallam County.

“Bottom line, we all know we’re in this together — and this is a way people show that.”

The DART training was in conjunction with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division.

For information about Clallam County DART or to volunteer, contact Barnard at abarnard@olypen.com.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.