Private Pilots, Planes Use Walla Walla in Statewide Disaster Drill
April 22, 2019
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  • A flight of private planes descended Saturday on Walla Walla as part of a drill to prepare for the unthinkable.

    The pilots and planes were at Walla Walla Regional Airport to ferry about 2,000 pounds of food to Renton, Wash., as the first step in an exercise to respond to the catastrophe expected if the Cascadia Subduction zone ever gives way in a massive earthquake.

    The second part of the disaster exercise will take place April 27, when the food supplies will be flown from Renton to an air base in Kenmore, Wash., at the north end of Lake Washington. The airlift will be part of a large-scale emergency drill to test the volunteer airlift capability being formed in the state for disaster response, said Bill Herrington, a Walla Walla resident who is one of the organizers of the event.

    Amid intermittent rain showers Saturday, a total of nine aircraft landed at the airport during the morning and, after loading up, took off for Renton. Among those taking part was George Steed, president of the Washington Pilots Association that helped sign up pilot volunteers for Disaster Airlift Response Teams.

    Steed said the ability of private pilots to provide aid during disasters was highlighted 30 years ago by the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California, which isolated the city of Watsonville. Three hundred private pilots were able to ferry in 3.5 million pounds of food and other supplies as part of the disaster relief effort.

    “It’s an agile resource,” Steed said about using private aircraft, many of which can land at small or even makeshift airstrips where larger airplanes can’t operate. “It’s the smaller communities we can get to, such as Forks (Wash.), which will be cut off (by an earthquake).”

    According to Sky Terry, another organizer, most of the supplies ferried to the west side Saturday were collected by No Town Left Behind and other organizations to be donated to Mary’s Place, a women’s shelter in Kenmore. The donated supplies were stored at Gorge Aviation Services, a fixed-base operator at the Walla Walla airport, after being collected from donors.