Everyday Heroes

Pilots Lend Their Wings To A Huge Need That's Been Forgotten In the Pandemic

Not all heroes wear capes. Some fly planes. You'll be humbled by the group of volunteer pilots who stepped up to deliver 19,000 pounds of supplies to those in need.

With most of the country starting to re-open as coronavirus cases continue to decrease, it's easy to forget that there are still some areas that are facing a very real threat from the virus.

One of those places is the Navajo Nation, an American Indian territory which spans across parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. As of last week, health officials reported 5,533 positive cases of Covid-19 and 252 confirmed deaths. That's the highest number of cases when compared to the populations of any other city in the states, including New York.

That's why folks all over the world are now stepping up to help the people of the Navajo Nation get the supplies they need.

Volunteers pack supplies for Backcountry Santa pilots to deliver to Navajo Nation. Heather Tanana/Facebook

Heather Tanana is one of them. Tanana founded the Indian Law Section of the Utah State Bar Association and is currently a research professor with the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

She's also a Navajo tribal member and recently lost a close relative to Covid-19. Tanana lives in Utah, and she says it's been difficult to see how much the people on Navajo Nation have been struggling and suffering.

"It was really a sense of helplessness that we are so far away," Tanana told ABC4. "My aunt passed away a couple weeks ago from COVID. Another partner of ours just heard today that his uncle passed away."

Heather Smith Tanana is a Navajo tribal member and college law professor. Heather Tanana/Facebook

Tanana, along with several others, started an organization to collect supplies for those living on the reservations called "Utah Tribal COVID-19 Relief."

After the group collected 19,000 pounds of essential items like masks, hand sanitizer, food and water, they linked up with Backcountry Santa, a small crew of volunteer pilots who fly supplies to Navajo Nation around Christmas time.

Tanana's group helped to collect over 19,000 pounds of essential items for the Navajo Nation. Heather Tanana/Facebook

When they learned how badly the tribes were in need of help, they decided to do a mid-year flight to get them the supplies they needed in the quickest way possible.

"It's a five-hour drive for them to do that. We can fly it there in 48 minutes from Blanding or two hours from Salt Lake, even in some of these slow backcountry planes. Some of our guys today were able to do that in just over an hour," Regan Richmond, one of the pilots, said.

Backcountry Santa pilots helped to deliver supplies to reservations in Utah. Huish Outdoors/Facebook

On Wednesday, 40-45 pilots showed up from as far as California, Colorado and Texas to pack up supplies and deliver them to Navajo Nation.

Tanana, who joined one of the flights so that she could help unload supplies on a reservation in San Juan County, was moved to tears by the effort.

Volunteers helped to move and sort thousands of pounds of donations like PPE, hand sanitizer, water and groceries. Heather Tanana/Facebook

"To participate today in the flights was just amazing. I am so humbled by the generosity of our partners," Tanana said. "These are pilots who took time out of their day with their personal planes and paying for the gas on their own. This is really a grassroots effort. No one is getting paid for this."

Organizers of the event said there will be more deliveries in the future, as long as the need is there.

Tanana says the donation drive will continue for as long as its needed. Huish Outdoors/Facebook

How can you start something good?

If you're a pilot, of know of one that might want to be a part of the relief efforts, they can visit the Utah Tribal COVID-19 Relief or Backcountry Santa websites.

If you're not a pilot, but still want to help, you can make a cash donation by clicking here.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together!

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