BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Thanks to an aid effort led by Florida Institute of Technology, more than 1,500 pounds of medical supplies, food and generators were flown directly to hurricane-ravaged San Juan Puerto Rico on Wednesday where they were distributed to families in need.
In less than three hours before a donated jet piloted by a PALS Sky Hope volunteer was due to take off for San Juan from Orlando Melbourne International Airport, Miguel Estremera (COA ’98), mobilized fellow alumni and College of Aeronautics faculty to gather $7,000 worth of donations and supplies and load them onto the aircraft.
Major donations for the supplies were provided by Joe Harris of Morgan Financial and John Curri of Curri Real Estate and his family.
About $2,000 worth of jet fuel needed to fly the Cessna Citation, a plane secured by Jo Damato (COA ’97) through a corporate jet contact, was purchased by F.I.T. Aviation. Milton Alvira (COA ’16) and Michael Santana (COA ’16 & ’17) were instrumental in making contact with air traffic controllers in Puerto Rico to get approval to land.
Following the massive destruction of infrastructure and services to his native Puerto Rico and other islands following Hurricane Irma, Estremera, a United Airlines pilot, joined the PALS Sky Hope Disaster Relief charity to fly aid packages to the islands and airlift people in need of medical attention.
While the emergency supplies such as rice, water, baby food, generators and first aid kits piled high on Melbourne airport’s luggage carrier were transferred to the jet by volunteers, Estremera paused to express gratitude for the enthusiasm the Florida Tech group brought to the effort.
“We have a wonderful team here from all walks of life who donated and came to the airport to help out in a matter of hours in order to bring some relief to the people of San Juan,” he said.
Fin Bonset (COA ’96 & ’99), adjunct professor for airport planning and design, was one of the volunteers on hand to help. Out surfing before the workday started, Bonset said he got a call from Estremera at 6:30 a.m. asking for assistance. Bonset then recruited several of his fellow surfers, friends and family to donate and buy supplies, load them in their cars and bring the cargo to the airport.
“This is some serious Panther Pride,” Bonset said.
“People just multiplied out of the blue wanting to help and it went from there.”
After the San Juan mission, the jet is scheduled to carry several Puerto Rican air traffic controllers and their families evacuating from the disaster to the U.S. before bringing yet more supplies to Dominica.
“This is what FIT is all about, this is what the College of Aero is all about,” Estremera said. “This is what America is all about.”
Florida Tech faculty and staff who contributed to the aid effort included Korhan Oyman, dean of the College of Aeronautics; Victoria Dunbar, associate dean of the College of Aeronautics; and Isaac Silver, deputy executive director of F.I.T. Aviation.
In addition to the COA alumni mentioned previously, others involved in the outreach were Mike Antalffy (’01), Carlos Cerezo (COA ’96), Jeff Ciarcia (COA ’11), and Rori Shonk (COA ’04).
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