This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
Helicopter Association International (HAI) presented its 2022 Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award to MD Helicopters for conducting 52 volunteer rescue supply missions to the Navajo Nation.
MD Helicopters promptly stepped up to the plate when the Navajo Nation started experiencing the highest per-capita rate of infections and deaths in the U.S. from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because the Nation has a reservation that is across 27,000 sq mi, members’ accessibility to medicine, doctors, and utilities can be limited. This was further exaggerated when the Nation’s borders shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.
MD Helicopters COO Chris Jaran said the company's leadership board gave “unanimous support” to volunteer time, pilots, fuel, and maintenance to help the 300,000 members of the Navajo Nation. MD Helicopters provided the resources and partnered with the Veterans Medical Leadership Council (VMLC), one of few organizations that had permission to enter the Nation.
The rescue supply missions continued almost weekly for more than a year. Originally expecting to fly only personal protective equipment, MD quickly realized other items were direly needed. In fact, the first mission was to fly chainsaws into the Nation, so members could cut and collect their own wood as temperatures in the region dropped down to around 30 degrees F. An MD 902 helicopter was filled up to its maximum cargo weight of 900 pounds with chainsaws, making strategic fuel stops along the way.
MD’s final relief flight was a Christmas-in-summer mission on June 25, 2021, delivering toys to the children of the Navajo Nation to make up for their December 2020 Christmas, which was spent in isolation due to the pandemic. MD Helicopters and the VMLC were greeted by a long line of cars and eager children when the helicopter stuffed full of toys landed at one of the reservation’s airstrips.
In total, MD Helicopters delivered more than 40,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.