Ohio University staff load the university's plane with supplies bound for Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Ohio University Airport.

Ohio University staff load the university's plane with supplies bound for Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Ohio University Airport.

Photographer: Lauren Dickey

The Ohio University plane was loaded with supplies bound for Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

The Ohio University plane was loaded with supplies bound for Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Photographer: Nicholas Lather

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Ohio University sends disaster relief supplies to Puerto Rico


An Ohio University airplane took publicly-donated supplies from the Athens Campus, as well as from Florida, to Hurricane Maria-stricken Puerto Rico on Wednesday, and plans to bring eight survivors back to the United States.

The College of Health Sciences and Professions coordinated the collection of supplies, including baby wipes, powdered milk and sports drinks, feminine hygiene products, five-gallon water containers, medical supplies, and battery-operated fans and radios. The drive began late Tuesday, Oct. 3, and was wrapped up by 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. The supplies were then transported to the Ohio University Airport, where an Ohio University pilot and co-pilot flew them first to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then on to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for delivery.

The effort began with Dr. Tania Basta, the chair of the Department of Social and Public Health in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, who has friends at the University of Puerto Rico and wanted to help. She contacted CHSP Dean Randy Leite, as well as the deans of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Russ College of Engineering; they, along with the airport, are funding the trip.

“I have friends down in Puerto Rico; watching all this unfold was really frustrating to me,” Basta said. She asked Leite’s opinion on whether the university’s plane could be used. “This has been such a quick turnaround; originally I didn’t think we were even taking supplies from Athens.”

The trip was approved Tuesday evening but the flight had to take place on Wednesday, Basta said. She started working social media, and the response has been strong.

“The response has been overwhelming, just constant people coming to my department, plus over $1,000 in cash,” she said.

Ohio University Chief Pilot Nick Lather, who also assisted with making the arrangements, coordinated with Operation Airdrop to get additional supplies in Fort Lauderdale. Operation Airdrop was formed after Hurricane Harvey by Houston-area pilots to get supplies to disaster-stricken areas. Lather is making the trip with co-pilot Anthony Amos.

Lather said he knows of a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale that has thousands of pounds of supplies to be delivered to Puerto Rico, just waiting for planes to be able to take it.

“San Juan on a normal day would have 8 to 10 business aircraft, and since the hurricane has seen 70 to 80 business aircraft a day delivering and evacuating,” Lather said. “I have been in touch with several alumni pilots that are working for other great companies to help the relief by air.”

Lather previously flew the plane to Naples, Florida, on Sept. 29 to deliver donations for Hurricane Irma relief. At that time, an estimated 850 pounds of assorted non-perishable foods, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and more than $700 raised by students at Veritas Classical Academy in Marietta, Ohio, where his children attend, was delivered to Naples.

The flight left from the Ohio University Airport at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the plane is due back in Athens on Thursday.