Angel Flight South Central Pilots Pull Off Unexpected Harvey Evacuation

Deteriorating conditions led to an 82-year-old Texas man taking the first flight of his life.

Angel Flight South Central
Angel Flight South Central delivered fresh water and supplies to Orange, Texas, in the aftermath of Harvey's destruction and flooding.Angel Flight

The general aviation community's response to the horrific and historic devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has been nothing short of incredible and inspirational. And while some organizations and pilots reached triple-digit missions in a matter of days, the work is only just beginning in some areas, as Maria bore down on Puerto Rico and set the island "back nearly 20 to 30 years." Undeterred, generous pilots from across the U.S. have continued their efforts to help make life a little easier and better for people (and pets) who have lost everything.

Angel Flight South Central, an organization that provides "free air transportation for medical and humanitarian purposes," recently shared the story of an unexpected evacuation effort by pilots Jason Tuggle and Dianna Stanger. After running supplies into Orange, Texas, the duo was set to fly a family from Beaumont to Port Lavaca. But before Tuggle and Stanger left for that mission, they were informed of a couple in Orange that also desperately needed help.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast on Saturday, August 26, and by the following Tuesday, Carolyn and Philip Brown were stranded in their house with the water rising. About 10 a.m. on Wednesday, a boat rescued the Browns, who were able to grab just two small bags of vital belongings from their home. The Browns spent most of Wednesday and Thursday in various makeshift shelters and a friend’s home, often without electricity or running water. Food was scarce, and they were too anxious to eat anyway. By then, all the roads were flooded, so the Browns’ son and daughter-in-law couldn’t get into town to evacuate them. That Thursday evening, as Carolyn nervously watched her husband try to rest on a narrow bleacher in the school gym, she wondered how he would make it through the night. In addition to his heart conditions and cancer, Philip’s ankles were prone to swelling. “I was terrified he would roll down,” she says. “It would have killed him. It wasn’t a good situation.”

As they were coming into Orange, Tuggle and Stanger launched a Facebook Live video, and that's when a friend commented that she knew a couple in dire need of evacuation. That couple was the Browns, and Tuggle told his friend that if somebody needed out, they could do it. It just wouldn't be that easy.

For starters, Tuggle and Stanger already had one planned evacuation, so they had to fly that mission first. Once that was completed, they had another obstacle to overcome: Philip Brown had never flown before.

"Initially, they responded that [the Browns] won't fly," Tuggle told Flying. "Thirty minutes later, they said, 'We'll do anything to get out of here.' He has cancer and had a heart condition, and they were worried about running out of his medication, or if any problem came there was no 911 or anyone to get there."

Angel Flight South Central
Philip and Carolyn Brown caught an Angel Flight to reunite with their daughter after their house was flooded.Angel Flight

Making things more difficult was that Orange was flooded – Tuggle said the water around the airport had only receded the day before they arrived – and so the Browns would need to get to the airport safely for their flight out. As luck would have it, a family friend with a pickup truck came to the rescue and drove them to meet the pilots. Everything fell perfectly into place, and soon enough the Browns were on their way to meet their daughter in Georgetown.

As for Philip’s first flight, they were more than pleased with the accommodations. “Truly we thought we would be sitting in a box, but there were leather seats; there was air conditioning,” Carolyn said of the experience. “We hadn’t been cool in days.”

“He was nervous at first, you could tell,” Tuggle recalled of his passenger’s milestone. “They thought they’d have to sit on the floor, but we told them no, there are seats in there. We checked on them a couple times during the flight and they were all smiles. It was a nice, smooth flight with the weather conditions you’d like for somebody’s first flight.”

Tuggle has been working with Angel Flight South Central since 2007, when he’d heard about it at airports and thought it was a good cause and good way to combine a hobby with helping people. He flies between four and six missions per year, and his next trip is already scheduled. There are still a lot of people who have been impacted by recent natural disasters, and he said the response from the GA community, including the hundreds of pilots who have offered their services and aircraft to Angel Flight, has been great and overwhelming.

And it certainly helps knowing that people like the Browns are somewhere safer thanks to a quick change of plans.

“That was probably the best part of the day,” Tuggle said, “seeing them get out of there and how excited they were to have help coming to get them back to family and some sort of civilization.”