Two pilots have spent their combined life savings for the sole purpose of saving refugees from the perils of sailing across the Mediterranean Sea.
José Benavente and Benoit Micolon are the French altruists behind the volunteer rescue group Pilotes Volontaires. The two men launched the effort after they pooled their hard-earned money to purchase a $150,000 plane to be used for rescuing migrants at sea.
“José and I bought the plane with our own personal money because otherwise we would have wasted too much time searching for financing,” Micolon told NBC News.
Benavente is no stranger to humanitarian efforts – for 25 years, he’s worked for the Red Cross and witnessed the challenges faced by Syrian migrants. Micolon, who first met Benavente in 2006 when they were earning their pilots’ licenses, became interested in the cause after his friend described firsthand the refugee crisis.
Every year, thousands of refugees pile into boats as a means of reaching safety in Europe. Unfortunately, many of those vessels don’t make it to dry land.
“It is very difficult to locate these small boats, sometimes carrying hundreds of people, and often the vessels ready to help them arrive too late,” says the pilots’ website. “We refuse to accept this fact as a fatality and we want to act to save more lives. Our mission is to provide air support, thanks to our aircraft adapted to search at sea.”
After buying the plane in January, Benavente and Micolon launched their maiden flight over the Mediterranean to search for boats earlier this month. By partnering with several regional nonprofits and charities to coordinate rescue efforts, the dynamic duo is now able to spot lifeboats from the air and direct rescue ships towards their location.
The industrious little plane is named “Hummingbird” after a Native American story about a hummingbird that attempts to stop a forest fire by scooping up drops of water with its beak and dropping it on the flames. When the other animals ask what the hummingbird is doing, it says: “I’m doing what I can.”
If you would like to donate to the Pilotes Volontaires, you can visit their website