Local pilots and volunteers process hypothetical requests for transportation during the May 4 South County Airport Pilots Association Disaster Airlift Response Team exercise. Contributed photo
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Pilots and local officials from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Martin gathered at the San Martin Airport on May 4 for the annual Disaster Airlift Response Team’s annual disaster training exercise. 

The event was organized by the South County Airport Pilots Association. Also in attendance were members of the San Martin Neighborhood Alliance, as well as government officials from the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, according to local pilot and SCAPA member Paul Marshall. A total of about 20 people attended the DART exercise. 

Due to rainy conditions and a low cloud cover all day, most of the exercise’s flights were canceled, Marshall said. Local pilot David Stites flew the only practice flight—under Instrument Flight Rules to San Jose International Airport. Stites flew to San Jose and back to San Martin with three passengers, including Morgan Hill City Council member Rene Spring. 

“The weather did have quite a dampening effect on the event,” Marshall said. “That said, we certainly don’t cancel an event with weather because in a real disaster you’re going to have all kinds of weather.”

Members of the local DART are part of the larger Cal DART organization, whose pilots in southern California participated in a real disaster in the San Bernardino Mountains in spring of 2023, Marshall explained. That operation involved helicopter pilots carrying thousands of pounds of food and supplies to residents who were trapped due to snowy, frozen conditions for more than a week. 

Drills like the one on May 4 in San Martin help pilots and other volunteers keep their skills and knowledge current in case of an emergency, Marshall said. 

“We work on brushing up our rescue skills for an exercise like this so we can be better prepared to move quickly should the need arise,” he said. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.