Tauranga Aeroclub member and pilot Greg Missen was welcomed with smiles of joy when he touched down in his twin-engine plane at Hastings aerodrome, loaded with essential supplies for locals cut off from Napier city and beyond.
His delivery was the first of a series being made by the aeroclub after a Facebook-initiated fundraising effort that morning had gone viral. It resulted in the club receiving hundreds of donations including clothes, food and essential sanitary items.
By the end of the weekend the aero club had flown in over 6t of food and supplies to isolated communities of Wairoa and Ruatoria, where it was then distributed by helicopter and ute to local households.
Ten aircraft shuttled between the regions, while donations continued to build up, with a hanger’s worth of goods accumulating in only a six-hour period on Saturday.
“Flying in you could see a very defined level of damage, with the areas anywhere around the rivers really scoured out,” Missen said.
He said Bay of Plenty had been very fortunate to have dodged Cyclone Gabrielle, and being able to help out was a vital way to assure people on the Gisborne-Napier coast that they were thinking of them.
He had taken advantage of the clear skies for the 50-minute flight, and noted air traffic was increasingly heavy as rescue efforts intensified.
On the ground, Brett Marsh, the owner of Brett Marsh transport, was overseeing the loading of a semi-trailer unit taking heavier items the aeroclub can’t fly down.
Driving the unit down himself overnight, he was uncertain what conditions would be like through the Waioeka Gorge. It is closed to the public, but truck operators have been allowed passage through with vital goods, under escort.
Marsh, who was donating his time and the unit, said it was an opportunity to give something back to the people of the east coast, after an event that could just as easily have hit Bay of Plenty, which was still vulnerable after heavy flooding in late January.
Ex-Tauranga mayor and aeroclub member Tenby Powell helped oversee the delivery effort.
Fresh from aid work in Ukraine, he said the club had been overwhelmed by the donations, and members are planning on flying into Wairoa, Napier and Gisborne if possible, carrying easily prepared food, water and essential sanitary items.
“The one thing we don’t want any more of is clothing, but we will happily continue to take water and food until such time as the supermarkets’ trucks are making deliveries,” Powell said.