Quick Action, Generosity Lead to
Multiple Flights Filled with Supplies
MELBOURNE, FLA. — Thanks to an aid effort led by Florida Institute of Technology, thousands of pounds of medical supplies, food, generators and more were flown directly to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on multiple flights from Orlando Melbourne International Airport over the last week.
On Saturday, volunteers from Florida Tech’s College of Aeronautics Alumni Association, mobilized by United Airlines pilot and Class of 1998 graduate Miguel Estremera, a native of Puerto Rico, returned to the Atlantic Jet Center at the airport to help load truckloads of supplies primarily from a $30,000 donation by Mike Antalffy (COA ’01) and his business partner, both based in Houston. Three dozen COA students were there to help, as well. By 1 p.m., a 70-seat Embraer E-190 owned by the director and actor Tyler Perry had arrived at the airport, ready to be loaded for its trip to Puerto Rico.
“Florida Tech is a village, it is a community,” Estremera said. “It’s incredible.”
Among those helping out Saturday was Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay. He said the College of Aeronautics alumni excel at helping each other and others. And the students who stepped forward to help, McCay said, are to be commended. “It’s unbelievable how well they’ve taken to doing this.”
Earlier in the week, a different donated jet piloted by a PALS Sky Hope volunteer took off from Melbourne carrying about $7,000 worth of donations and supplies. Major donations for the supplies were provided by Joe Harris of Morgan Financial and Cari and David Curri of Curri-Kirschner Properties.
F.I.T. Aviation covered the $4,000 cost of providing more than 200 gallons of jet fuel for the Wednesday relief flight and 200 gallons for Saturday’s flight.
And officials at the Melbourne airport, led by Executive Director and Florida Tech alumnus Greg Donovan (COA ’91), have been instrumental in facilitating the airlifts, allowing landing fees, ground services and other costs to be waived.
“Anything that we can do with relief missions and the complex logistics of flying, we need to do,” Donovan told Florida Today. “We are going to rise to the occasion.”
The Cessna Citation used Wednesday was secured by Jo Damato (COA ’97) through a corporate jet contact. 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; Isaac Silver, deputy executive director of F.I.T. Aviation; and Ishmael Cremer, assistant dean of the College of Aeronautics.
In addition to the COA alumni mentioned previously, others involved in the outreach were Carlos Cerezo (COA ’96), Jeff Ciarcia (COA ’11), and Rori Shonk (COA ’04).