Local pilot serving in flooded areas

John Goerzen flew his plane over a flooded Nebraska. Goerzen and many other volunteer pilots flew in supplies. Courtesy photo.
John Goerzen flew his plane over a flooded Nebraska. Goerzen and many other volunteer pilots flew in supplies. Courtesy photo.
While many felt helpless during the recent flooding of several midwestern states, rural Goessel resident John Goerzen decided to use his plane and pilot’s license to help out. On March 18, he flew a plane full of supplies into Nebraska. He also flew people in and out.

“I was one of about 50 pilots with small planes that responded over the course of three days to the flooding in Fremont. The town had been completely cut off from the outside. There were people trying to get into Fremont, and others trying to get out,” said Goerzen. “A number of Fremont residents were in shelters there, which needed supplies. All told, the latest estimates I heard were that we transported over 1000 people and tons of cargo.”

The supplies were all donated and consisted of items such as bottled water, blankets, diapers, toilet paper and more.

The volunteers flew in and out of the Fremont airport which is a small one without airline service. Most of the aircrafts that participated were two and four seaters as well as some six-seaters and helicopters.

Goerzen personally flew to Fremont with his six-seater plane and flew flights in the area all day long. While he transported many people to and from Fremont throughout the day, one family sticks out for him.

“The story I remember the most is this one. I carried a family of four back home from Omaha, including their one-week-old baby. They had gone to Omaha for an appointment for the baby, couldn’t get back home due to the flooding and had been stuck away from home for 3 days with no way to get home except by air,” said Goerzen.

Goerzen said there was no government agency or anyone in charge. There were volunteers helping coordinate things, aviation businesses helping out and restaurants donating food for pilots and volunteers. There were also volunteers at Millard airport in Omaha collecting donations and helping to load planes.

“When I landed in Fremont with a load of supplies, a dozen people ranging in age from junior high to retired were instantly there and helped unload as soon as I shut down the engine,” said Goerzen. “Just a bunch of people that showed up to help.”

Goerzen, who started volunteering last year with EAA’s Young Eagles offering free exploration flights to children ages 8-17, will continue with that program as well other flights for relief such as the one he did in March.

“I hope that the need for these things remains rare, but I am glad to be able to help

when there is a need,” Goerzen said.

While there were challenges such as no control towers between the two airports to keep direct pilots out of each other’s ways and the long hours of flying, the experience was overall rewarding.

“I’ve never seen people so very thankful for something I was able to do for them. A few asked where I was from, and they were astonished that someone from so far away would come to help them,” said Goerzen. “I got to see relief and joy on so many faces, and got more hugs from strangers than I ever had before.”

A lot of people don’t realize what resources their local small airports are, both for emergencies and every day. According to Goerzen, many people in Fremont had driven past their airport every day for years but never set foot on its grounds and had no idea what happens there.

“We are fortunate to have many small airports in our area — Hillsboro, Marion, Moundridge, Newton, Abilene, and others. From these airports, crops are dusted, sick patients get transported by air ambulance, people can travel all over the country, and people can visit our communities,” said Goerzen.

The Fremont Area Community Foundation is accepting donations for flood relief at http://facfoundation.org/floodrelief.html. Enough roads in the area have re-opened so the airlift is no longer in progress there, but the flooding caused devastation across large parts of multiple states and the need is still great.