Hurricane Dorian: Naples teen pilots airplane full of pet supplies to Bahamas

Flying a single-engine airplane full of pet supplies to the Bahamas, after Hurricane Dorian decimated the country, was an easy decision for 19-year-old Andi Miller.

"The answer was an automatic yes," Miller said. "When I began to see images of what happened in Abaco Islands, I was so sad for them and I wanted to help."

"My parents were nervous but (they) did not try to stop me and supported the decision."

Andi Miller looks at the camera after returning from Abaco Islands in Bahamas on Sept. 10, 2019. The 19-year-old licensed pilot flew a Cessna 182 full of pet supplies from Naples Airport after Hurricane Dorian decimated the island.

On Tuesday morning, she sat on the pilot's seat of a Cessna 182 and took off from the Naples Airport to the Abaco Islands, one of the hardest-hit areas.

Under the supervision of Andrés Gutiérrez, a flight instructor at the Career Flight Training and Aircraft Rental (CFTAR) in Marco Island, Miller flew two hours to Treasure Cay International Airport. Along the way, the view was breathtaking but as they got closer to their destination, things started to change.

"As we got closer I expected to see the water really churned up and brown but it was flawless and gorgeous but as we approached the land it was very strange because it looked like there had been a fire," Miller said. "All the trees were stripped, there was just wood splinters everywhere."

Flight instructor Andrés Gutiérrez, pilot Andi Miller and veterinarian David C. Randall stand next to the Cessna 182 at Naples Airport on Sept. 10, 2019.

"The airport, if there weren't so many people there, it would look like it was abandoned, it was really torn up."

The airport's taxiway was destroyed by Dorian, causing airplanes to use the same runway for landing and taking off, according to Miller and Gutiérrez.

Upon landing, Miller said the local authorities did not ask to see her passport or her pilot license, documents commonly required to enter Bahamian territory. "They wanted to know what we had and if we were coming back," Miller said.

Civilians, on the other hand, asked Miller and other pilots for help. "They asked if they could come with me and it was really heartbreaking to tell them they couldn't," Miller said. "They are resilient people but its hard to see them like that."

"This is a 'war zone,' I've never seen anything like it."

The day before the flight, Miller and others packed the plane full of pet supplies, even removing the back seats to make space for more. Supplies included bandage and suture materials, antibiotics and pain medication. 

David C. Randall, second-generation veterinarian and owner of Big Cypress Animal Clinic, helps pushing the Cessna 182 inside a hangar at Naples Airport on Sept. 10, 2019.

Big Cypress Animal Clinic and it's owner, David C. Randall, financed the operation. The veterinary clinic has been part of the South Naples community since 1989.

"I was really created to be a veterinarian and take care of animals," Randall said. "Knowing the devastation that we went through with Irma and Andrew, knowing that those people have less than we do [...] and seeing the amount of total destruction, anything you can give is a benefit to the people and their pets."

Miller and Gutiérrez had four ice-cold bottles of water for their return trip; it was 90 degrees outside. After observing volunteers working to remove debris and transport donations, visibly sweating, the pilots donated three of those waters, keeping just one to share on their trip back home.  

"We kind of just thought we'll be back home soon where there is cold water but they have no way of getting that," Miller said. "The gratitude they had when we did made it impossible not to give out more." 

If you are interested in helping finance more trips to help pets in Bahamas, you can call the Big Cypress Animal Clinic at (239) 774-2233 or send an email to

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