The news reports said roughly 50 people were dead. A storm, controlled by no man, had swept the vast islands leaving
little in its path. A moment of devastation was a moment Dr. Ted Perl believed was his chance to step up.
"We really felt we wanted to help make a difference and do something on this planet that counts. Every once in a while,
you get the opportunity."
For more than 30 years, Dr. Ted Perl, an avid fly fisherman, has visited many of the islands of the Bahamas with family
and friends to both relax and enjoy his hobby. He distinctly remembers the vibrant sights of the landscape.
"The beauty when you fly in is so spectacular," Perl said. "Especially for those who haven't had the opportunity to go down there. The first time, their noses are glued to the windows looking out to see the beauty."
But September of 2019 changed that quickly.
"That was all gone," Perl said. "Coming in, you see nothing but brown. No trees have any foliage left. It's all skeletons for trees. The little islands had everything blown off and it looked like the moon."
Perl said he expected to see buildings destroyed but was not prepared for what the hurricane had done to the landscape.
It was evident these people needed help.
"In a time of need like this, we all try to do what we can. I have the airplane and the capability to carry a couple thousand pounds of supplies," Perl said.
Perl contacted Textron Aviation looking for a way he and his CESSNA CITATION CJ4 aircraft could be of service. After connecting with Bon Air Brokerage out of Lynchburg, Va., Perl sent his pilot’s license, training information, insurance and aircraft airworthiness certificate. Then, he waited.
"I got a call one day and they said you're approved. We're grateful to have your services and can you come down tomorrow?" Perl explained.
Perl said the organization gave him a short window to pick up supplies in the United States and fly down to the Bahamas because of additional incoming weather. That weather concern would prove challenging because once in the air, he said nobody was giving pilots weather conditions in the Bahamas area. In fact, Perl said, there wasn't anyone on the radio at the tower at all. The challenges would only continue.
"There was no fuel on the island when we were there, so we had to take enough fuel to be able to get back to the states and this carries nearly 6,000 pounds of fuel," he said, regarding his light jet. "You have on-board radar, but the weather reporting is almost nonexistent after the storm. You don't know what you're going to get into. With an airplane this capable in terms of speed and range and altitude, I could pretty much outrun any weather."
Carrying enough supplies to make the trip worthwhile was critical to the mission. The CJ4 aircraft’s combination of speed, range and ability to carry supplies was perfect for this trip profile.
"In terms of ability to circumnavigate weather, have enough fuel to get a long way back or most of the way back, carrying an awful lot of load and having the speed to get in and out, it’s just a phenomenal airplane," Perl said.
Though his flight proved challenging, Perl said it didn't compare to what he'd find when he touched down. The impact of Hurricane Dorian's devastation was evident as soon as he was on the ground.
"You really didn't see too many people," Perl said, other than volunteers who were unloading the airplanes. "I think the ones that decided to stay were pretty dazed. It had been 10 days or a week since the storm and I don’t know how much sleep they'd gotten; certainly not enough food and water."
Perl's aircraft was full of food, water, bleach, wipes, generators, medical supplies and finally, a large bag of stuffed animals for children who survived the storm. He said there was a lot of trust and faith involved, both that aircraft would come with supplies and that volunteers would distribute them well.
This isn't the first time Perl has decided to help others. He donated his aircraft and time in 2005 after Hurricane Wilma. Perl says while he was confident in his choice to help, telling his children about the trip reaffirmed his decision and made him especially pleased to be part of the relief effort.
"It had a lot of meaning for me that my kids were so proud," Perl said. "To have your family and close friends look up to you when you weren’t even thinking about what they were going to think, it made a big difference and made me feel good. I think there's an inherent good in most people and I saw a lot of it firsthand."
Perl went to the Bahamas a second time in his CJ4 aircraft just days after his first trip bringing more supplies to
those in need.