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LI Air National Guard, aviation firm aid Irma rescue efforts

Sheltair Aviation evacuated about 60 pets from Florida

Sheltair Aviation evacuated about 60 pets from Florida on Sept. 8, 2017, ahead of Hurricane Irma. One dog was injured in flight and taken to a veterinarian upon arrival in Westhampton Beach, officials said. Credit: Laura Foscolo

Long Island aviation is staying active in the response to Hurricane Irma and another hurricane, José, now threatening the Caribbean.

Elements of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, are bound for Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami to continue rescue operations it started in Puerto Rico, a spokesman emailed Sunday.

Working alongside units from Puerto Rico and Kentucky, the 106th participated in 64 helicopter rescues in Puerto Rico and the airlift of 1,268 Americans from the island of St. Maarten to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The 106th contributed HC-130 Hercules prop airplanes, three HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters with hoist capability, and three Zodiac boats for water operations, along with 124 volunteer airmen.

Photographs on the unit’s social media pages showed evacuees — many of them cheerful — packing the belly of a cargo plane along with camouflage-clad airmen.

The rescue represents the second time in two weeks the 106th has been deployed to aid storm victims. From Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, the unit rescued 546 people in the Houston area after Hurricane Harvey struck.

Skeleton staff for Sheltair Aviation, an aviation developer with bases in Farmingdale, Westhampton Beach and 11 locations in Florida, were working to prepare facilities for recovery operations as soon as weather permits, Warren Kroeppel of Huntington, the company’s chief operating officer, said Sunday from Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport could open to airline traffic as early as Monday night, he said, citing a conference call with airport officials.

In the days leading up to Irma’s landfall in Florida, about 500 to 600 aircraft had flown out of Sheltair’s bases there, Kroeppel said. A corporate jet flew into Westhampton Beach with roughly 60 dogs and cats evacuated from the Miami area, he said. Sheltair’s general manager in Westhampton Beach, Laura Foscolo, took one urgent case to a veterinarian — Amelia, a dog that was injured in flight when it got out of its traveling crate, Kroeppel said.

Animal Haven and Bideawee shelters will be placing the animals for adoption, Foscola wrote in an email.

Sheltair also fueled one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “hurricane hunter” planes — a Lockheed WP-3D Orion that flies into the storm to collect meteorological data — at its base in Lakeland, Florida.

Kroeppel was hunkered down in a co-worker’s Fort Lauderdale home about five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, he said. Authorities had imposed a curfew and no vehicles were permitted on roads until 10 a.m. Monday, he said.

He described his temporary office — a concrete home with a concrete roof and storm shutters over the window — as being “like a bunker.”

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