Mission Complete

Imagine planning a typical, fun, and laid-back mother-daughter weekend of flying, then have it turn to a last-minute, life-saving mission.

“My mom is a nurse practitioner and she works nights. One night she was texting me ‘Hey, you know, I have next week off, I want to do a lot of flying next week and spend some time with Little Silver [RV-12],’” Arianna said. “And so, I’m like, ‘Alright, I’ll look.’ I was thinking about an adventure to do or where we could fly but I couldn’t really come up with something.”

When Arianna Strand caught word of a pelican who was found fighting for its life in the Connecticut River with hypothermia, frost-bite, and pneumonia by a local Audubon society volunteer, she immediately jumped to action and called her mom.

“A friend of ours sent us an email and it was a forwarded link that said ‘Hey, anyone interested in flying with a bird?’ Immediately I called mom and I’m like, ‘Did you see the email?’” Arianna said. “So, I told her and she was at work so I wasn’t sure what she was going to say but she was like, ‘Alright, well find out more information.’”

Arianna contacted her friends that sent the email and she eventually got in touch with the rehabilitation center that was temporarily caring for the pelican.

“The Connecticut Audubon Society passed my number along to A Place Called Hope, which is the place that was rehabbing the bird while he was up here in Connecticut,” Arianna said. “And so, we got in contact, I talked to her she said he needed to go to Jupiter, Florida.”

Arianna said no one is entirely sure how the pelican ended up in Connecticut, adding that for the most part, typically pelicans will only come as far north as Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“From there, I worked out logistics, got the measurements for the cage, made sure it would fit in the back of the RV and then from there, we just you know, kind of worked on all the planning and made it happen,” Arianna said.

On February 4, just after 6 a.m., the flying duo took off with the pelican. Laurie and Arianna incorporated several emergency landing locations in their route in case anything went wrong with the pelican during the trip.

“We stopped in Chesapeake, Virginia, and then we stopped at Grant’s Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach, and Fernandina Beach,” Laurie said. “We had numbers to contact conservationists along the way at each stop in case we ran into trouble, or if there was weather and we needed to spend a night, there were people who would be able to come out and help us. Fortunately, we didn’t need it, though.”

After about 1,050 miles and three fuel stops later, the team landed in Jupiter just after 6 p.m. later that same day.

Laurie and Arianna decided to spend the rest of the weekend in Florida to make sure their new friend, which they affectionately named Arvy after the RV-12, was settled into his new home at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.

“As pilots, you always enjoy adventures in the plane but this really was very rewarding and really great,” Laurie,  said. “It was one of the things that I felt if I were watching it or seeing news about it that I would think it was a feel-good story, so, it was really great to be part of. I work in a cardiac ICU and we get a lot of medical patients overflow, so, it’s been a really rough year with the pandemic and this was a really great diversion.”

Laurie said an added bonus to a successful and rewarding mission was being able to take a piece of her EAA chapter with her on this journey.

“The RV-12 that we fly made its maiden flight this past May,” Laurie said. “It was built over the course of three years by a local high school and it was overseen by our EAA Chapter 27 down in Meriden, Connecticut, and the kids worked on it twice a week. So, it was great to be able to do this in that airplane.”

Laurie said before taking off for Florida, several individuals from her EAA chapter came together to make sure they were ready for the trip.

“They were excited and everybody was so great,” Laurie said. “A few of the members did an oil change the day before we left and a lot of people came and helped us do a good thorough preflight. We looked at everything, made sure everything was looking OK for the flight and put a few tools together if we were going to need to potentially take the winterization kit off and put it back on and along the way. So, they were just great.”

The flying duo

Laurie and Arianna Strand are a mother-daughter flying duo based in Bristol, Connecticut. Laurie, a first-generation pilot caught the flying bug when she was 15 years old.

“When I was younger, a friend of my father’s was an airline pilot and he had a small airplane, and it was like the day before the Fourth of July and there were fireworks and we saw the fireworks from the air, which was just so amazing and I really liked it,” Laurie recalled. “A few years later, I decided to take a discovery flight and, you know, once you get up there if you love it, you love it.”

Laurie earned her private pilot certificate when she was 20 years old and flew for a while, but as life would have it, she took a 19-year hiatus and didn’t get back into flying until her daughter was 13. Getting back into flying not only reminded Laurie of her love of flight, but sparked an interest in her daughter, Arianna too.

“I was 13 when she got back into it and someone was like, ‘Oh, I got to take you flying,’ took her and I up in the back seat and that was it, she fell back in love with it and I fell in love with it,” Arianna said. “Then I just continued to fly and I got my license just after my 17th birthday and then I just really wanted to keep going with it. So now, I’m a CFII and in December I graduated from Vermont Technical College with a bachelor’s in professional pilot technology and now I’m just working as a flight instructor.”

Arianna said getting to fly with her mom, let alone go on such a rewarding mission together has been a lot of fun and she is grateful for the experience.

“It was a really, really great flight together,” Arianna said. “When we left here, we went down the skyline route over the Hudson both at dawn and then we came back at night. New York actually cleared us to Bravo at 1,500 feet, so, that’s just so amazing to be able to see. We really got some great sights.”

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