We love our pilots! To celebrate all the hours and hard work they put in to both our medical and charter flights, we’re sitting them down for a question-and-answer session. For this Pilot Q&A, meet Dan Fernandez!
CSI Aviation: Why did you choose to fly for CSI, and how long have you been with us?
Dan Fernandez: After many years of flying for the USAF and then managing Air Force flying training programs, I wanted to get back to directly flying for a career but also use my extensive experience to give back to the community, and air ambulance seemed like the perfect fit. The fact that CSI is veteran owned, local, and provides medical transportation to our New Mexico communities in need made it a natural choice! I have been with CSI nearly 3 years.
CSI: What’s your favorite story to tell about your flying experience?
Dan Fernandez: One of my most memorable experiences (and after over 37 years of flying I have many!) was in the late 90s when I was an Exchange Pilot flying with the Ecuadorian Air Force. The Galápagos Islands are part of Ecuador and Ecuador manages the natural preserve and engendered giant tortoise species, each with unique characteristics in the various separate islands. While I was there, a volcano on Isabella Island began flowing, cutting off the small population of native giant tortoises, numbering only about 20 left in the world. The Ecuadorian Air Force was asked to help. However, with the islands over 600 miles from the mainland in the Pacific, and no aviation fuel available, they faced limited choices.
I was able to guide them and demonstrate how they could fit one of their helicopters (with rotors off) inside their C-130 and how to remove fuel from our tanks to fuel the helicopter while on the island, and still have enough fuel to return. The leadership accepted the plan, and the Ecuadorian Park Service was able to locate many of the tortoises as they slowly were being pushed towards the ocean with all their escape routes cut off. I flew the C-130 to the island, landed on the short strip and assisted with the re-assembly and refueling process. One by one, with the re-assembled Helicopter, they were able to “sling-load” the tortoises, some males weighing over 200 lbs., out of the area to safety!
All in all, the team was able to locate and safely recover 17 of these precious animals. They were relocated to a nature reserve to heal and be nursed back to full health before being re-introduced to the island after the volcanic activity subsided. As an epilogue, a few months later, some of the rescued females laid eggs, and many new hatchlings were born. On one of my visits back to Isabella I was introduced to some of the baby hatchlings! You could say I had a hand in saving a nearly extinct species using my aviation knowledge and skills—a very memorable experience!