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Angel Flight South Central pilots stretch their wings during Hurricane Harvey

It was late afternoon, and Carolyn Brown looked over at her 82-year-old husband, Philip. It worried her terribly to see him lying precariously on the bleachers of the elementary school gym, his head propped on a waterlogged duffel bag. This was no place to sleep for a man with a heart condition who had just visited MD Anderson for cancer treatment. But Hurricane Harvey had flooded them out of their home in Orange, Texas, and this was their only option for the night. They hadn’t eaten for two days, but Carolyn’s gravest concern was her husband’s sleeping situation. “I’m not sure he would have made it through the night in that shelter,” she says.

That’s when she learned that help was on the way. Angel Flight South Central was flying water and food into Orange – about 80 miles east of Houston on the Louisiana border – because all the roads were closed due to flooding. During the flight in, Angel Flight pilots Dianna Stanger and Jason Tuggle learned about the Browns’ predicament through a friend on social media. Normally a volunteer flight service for people who need medical treatment in another city, Angel Flight pilots do not typically deal in emergency supplies and evacuation. But the choice here was simple: the Browns needed evacuating and Angel Flight South Central had an open plane – that is, once the food and water had been loaded off.

[Shown above: Philip and Carolyn Brown boarding Stanger's plane in Orange.]

Except that those empty seats had already been spoken for: Stanger and Tuggle had already committed to evacuating a Port Lavaca family who had been in nearby Beaumont for medical treatment and had been stranded there by the flooding.

It was going to be a long day for everyone. But lifting people out of danger is exactly what Angel Flight South Central is all about.

Flood waters rising

Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast on Saturday, August 26, and by the following Tuesday, Carolyn and Philip Brown were stranded in their house with the water rising. About 10 a.m. on Wednesday, a boat rescued the Browns, who were able to grab just two small bags of vital belongings from their home. The Browns spent most of Wednesday and Thursday in various makeshift shelters and a friend’s home, often without electricity or running water. Food was scarce, and they were too anxious to eat anyway.

By then, all the roads were flooded, so the Browns’ son and daughter-in-law couldn’t get into town to evacuate them. That Thursday evening, as Carolyn nervously watched her husband try to rest on a narrow bleacher in the school gym, she wondered how he would make it through the night. In addition to his heart conditions and cancer, Philip’s ankles were prone to swelling. “I was terrified he would roll down,” she says. “It would have killed him. It wasn’t a good situation.”

Unbeknownst to the Browns, help was on the way. Megan Moreau, a friend of their daughter’s, had seen Tuggle post a live video to Facebook showing him with Stanger flying her plane to Orange with supplies. Moreau left a comment on the post, telling them about the Browns’ situation. “If they need out of here, let me know,” Tuggle replied. “We can arrange flights out, too.”

[Shown above: Jason Tuggle and Dianna Stanger aboard Stanger’s plane.]

Moreau wasn’t certain they could convince the Browns to get on a plane. Philip Brown had never been on a plane in his 82 years. But the prospect of flying for the first time seemed less nerve-wracking than staying in an ill-equipped shelter for one more night.

An angel flight

Stanger and Tuggle unloaded their supplies at the Orange County Airport. The town had run dangerously low on food and water, and the supplies went straight to the shelters. But the empty space on the plane left by the offloaded supplies had been promised to a family from Port Lavaca who had been stranded in Beaumont while one of them was receiving medical treatment. So Stanger and Tuggle took off to honor that commitment before returning to Orange for the Browns.

[Shown above: Offloading water and food in Orange, Texas.]

Meanwhile, the Browns’ friend, Johnny Lucia, picked them up from the shelter in his pickup truck, braving dangerously deep waters to transport them to the airport. The Browns were nervous about what the flight and the pilots would be like. But, she says, “to see Jason walk in with that huge smile on his face – you can’t even imagine. And Dianna – such a sweet person. When we discovered that they’d come just for us … that was almost more than I could take.”

Carolyn was so overjoyed to be getting to safety that she said she would have gladly sat on the floor of the plane. “Truly we thought we would be sitting in a box, but there were leather seats; there was air conditioning. We hadn’t been cool in days.”

An hour later, they landed at the Georgetown airport, just north of Austin, where their daughter was waiting to take them to her home. The Browns have not been able to return to their home yet, but Carolyn’s brother has visited the house and said the carpets are waterlogged and that the stench of mold is overwhelming. They’ll return to Orange this Friday to meet an adjuster, and they’re unsure how they’re going to remove everything from their flooded home.

But Carolyn says she’s just happy that they’re safe. “Everything that happened was truly an angel flight,” she says. “I hope that this is a charity that will just explode with success.”

Angel Flight South Central is continuing to offer evacuation to those in need. To request an evacuation flight, visit this page.

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