Santa traded reindeer for Cessnas, Pipers and a helicopter or two to ensure kids in some of B.C.’s small communities hardest hit with flood damage got something for Christmas. Dozens of B.C. pilots have taken part in Operation Elf, flying plane loads of Christmas gifts to settlements that remain essentially cut off from the rest of the province as they wait their turn to get roads fixed. Many of them also helped out in mid November when an atmospheric river dumped up to a foot of rain on some areas, washing out main highways and cutting off dozens of communities. Retired firefighter and avid pilot Shaun Heaps rallied his flying friends at the West Coast Pilot’s Club in Langley and helped rescue dozens of stranded people.
When the pressure of that effort wore off as a few road links were restored, Heaps turned his thoughts to the looming holiday season and the empty stockings that were inevitable in some of the worst-affected places. “We’re just a bunch of regular Joes, filling a gap that needs to be filled,” he told the Globe and Mail. In addition to Christmas presents, the volunteer pilots are still taking basic necessities to some communities because no one else is. “Government has abdicated its responsibility here,” said volunteer pilot Liam Smith. “It’s disgraceful how little help they are providing people. There is no airlift coming in with food. It’s just us.”