After flash floods unleashed mudslides that stranded motorists just north of Los Angeles Oct. 15, California pilots at nearby Tehachapi Airport scrambled to provide help. Seeing the effects of the storm, Ken Hetge, owner of a maintenance and rental facility called Recover Your Cub, mobilized an airlift of stranded passengers.
“We came out to the airport, called the local pilots who we thought were available to fly, and we put these guys into action,” said Hetge, who is no stranger to organizing a group of pilots. He received an award of excellence from the California Pilots Association in 2013 for his efforts to protect Tehachapi Airport from encroachment.
About 10 pilots answered the call and made flights between Tehachapi and Mojave. He said they flew about 65 to 70 people who were stranded, as well as their pets.
“Those are the guys that are the true heroes,” Hetge said. “They were the ones that were in the airplanes. They were flying back and forth getting the people from Point A to Point B.”
Hetge said having general aviation airplanes in a community like Tehachapi is extremely important, particularly when disaster strikes.
“We’re up in the mountains. We have clean air, a great community to live in,” he said. “But in a natural disaster, a mudslide, a snowstorm…we become isolated, an island in Eastern Kern County.”
Hetge and his volunteer crew highlight how general aviation and GA airports can serve their communities in times of natural disaster.