Payson Pilot Helps Hurricane Victims

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Alan Schwartz loads white trash bags full of clothing, bedding and food from the bed of a Ford pickup into his airplane parked on the Bravo runway of the Payson Airport.

Schwartz, a local pilot, removed the six-passenger seating area in the rear of his gray-and-white 1969 Piper Aztec Turbo to accommodate the provisions.

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Alan Schwartz is a member of the Baja Bush Pilots, a group donating their planes, fuel and time to help victims of Hurricane John.

He's preparing for his upcoming south-of-the-border flight, ferrying supplies to a remote, weather-beaten area of Baja Mexico called Mulege.

Hurricane John made landfall Sept. 2 and, although it grazed some parts of Baja, Mexico, flooding devastated the small village.

"The storm hit Baja really hard," Schwartz said. "It swept away mobile homes; it wiped out most of the town."

To provide relief, the Baja Bush Pilots, a hodgepodge of Arizona-based fliers, have donated their planes, fuel and time.

The mission: To help a community of 3,000 get back on its feet.

"Mulege was hit hardest, because it's on the coast surrounded by mountains," Schwartz said.

Nearby, the river, Rio Mulege, rose 35 feet. The waters washed through homes and businesses.

Days after the water receded, Schwartz and the other pilots started flying in supplies.

The genesis of the Baja Bush Pilots began with a pilot named Arnold Senterfitt. In the early 1960s, he cataloged and published a guide to the remote airstrips of Mexico. The book gained such popularity that it's still referred to in the aviation community.

Ten years ago, Valley-based pilot Jack McCormick purchased the company. He's hosted several south-of-the-border relief missions since then.

Around the same time, in north Phoenix, Schwartz was developing his passion for flight. It happened during a garage sale at his son's home in 1993. When he turned his eyes to the sky, the small planes flying overhead piqued his curiosity.

"It seemed very interesting," said Schwartz. "The first thing I liked was the mental challenge. You just don't jump into an airplane."

Schwartz's lessons began with a complimentary ride. Squeezed into the cockpit of a Cessna 152 with a female pilot, the duo took to the air.

"I swore I'd never get in another one," he said.

Over the years, he graduated to larger aircraft with more horsepower, and, in 1995, he turned his hobby into a purpose. At first he donated his time to Angel Flights, a volunteer organization that transports ill, low-income passengers who don't live near major airports.

He chartered a woman with breast cancer from Tonopah, Nev. to treatment in Scottsdale, but her condition turned terminal. As a final gift, Schwartz flew the woman to her daughter's home to die.

"It's a labor of love for me," he said.

On Friday, Schwartz will edge into his Piper stuffed with supplies, put on his headphones, and make the three-hour trip to Mulege.

"Jack put out the request to Bush pilots and I answered," he said.

Schwartz said he's seeking volunteers to fly missions with the Baja Bush Pilots and cash donations for gas. For more information, e-mail Schwartz at aschwartz@aproplbg.com or visit the Baja Bush Pilots Web site at www.bajabushpilots.com.

-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail fmegdal@payson.com.

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