Date: November 25, 1985
Location: Saskatoon, Canada
By: Peter Wilson
The sound of aircraft passing overhead is a rarity in Third World countries.
Guy Gervais, who has spent much of his life piloting supplies to and from remote jungle airstrips, feels many of the problems of those countries stem from lack of adequate, safe, and reliable transportation.
“In Zaire, a country the size of Quebec and Ontario with a population of 33 million, communications outside the two largest cities are virtually nil. The road service is extremely unreliable and, when you leave for a destination, even in a Land Rover, you are never sure when you are going to arrive.”
Airplanes are a means of transportation and communication ideally suited to that type of country, says Gervais, 53, a pilot and aircraft mechanic.
He was in Saskatoon this week, spreading the word about Air Service Freedom, a new Canadian organization supplying airplanes and pilots to help people and communities in the Third World.
It has sent two Cessna two-seater planes and three pilots to Zaire, and hopes to raise enough money and support to send at least eight more, he said in an interview.
In the immediate future, it plans to construct and maintain landing strips in Zaire, and set up a radio communications network. Later on, Gervais said, other African nations will be included, as well as countries such as Indonesia and New Guinea.
The first Air Service freedom plane started operating in March last year from Dungu, Zaire, covering a circle of country 360 kilometers wide. This year, a second Cessna followed to Kinsagani, to serve a population of 60,000.
To get broad cross-section of support, the organization has worked closely with volunteers, government, religious communities, aviation companies and service clubs in Canada. It is based on a 13-year-old American organization, Wings of Hope, for which Gervais flew in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.
Gervais, on a cross-Canada promotional tour, has organized with Mitchinson’s Flying Club an aerial sight-seeing tour of Saskatoon’s Christmas lights Dec. 18 and 19.
“Half the money raised will go to Air Service Freedom and towards our service in Zaire. People in Saskatoon will be able to share their Christmas celebrations with people in isolated villages in Zaire.
“Their gifts will be helping us deliver services that will provide wells for drinkable water, transport doctors and nurses to the sick, improve farming methods, transport books and teachers to the bush schools, and support the missionaries.”
He said the Canadian International Development Agency will triple the money raised.
Gervais has flown over 19,000 hours, much of it over remote areas and in many types of aircraft. Not all of the experiences have been welcome.
He remembered ferrying a Wings of Hope aircraft from the United States to Peru when its fuel pump failed.
“It was over the Gulf of Mexico and I was running out of fuel. Luckily I was flying a sea-plane so the only course open to me was to look for a ship. I found a German cargo ship and brought my plane down in rough water. You have no idea how small you feel when you are bobbing about in a little plane, and 130 feet up is the deck of the ship.”
Although the aircraft was banging against the hull of the ship, both he and it were rescued and eventually taken to New Orleans.
The scare was worth it to Gervais, for the incident gave the organization much-needed publicity.
“Inside of eight months, we had three aircraft donated to us. I guess we all have to suffer a little to achieve something worthwhile.”