More than 600 migrants have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, And that’s the reason why these two Pilots came up to these plans. Their plan is to save lives by spotting rickety, overcrowded migrant vessels before it’s too late.
“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.”
José Benavente and Benoit Micolon are the French altruists behind the volunteer rescue group Pilots Volunteers. 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 said.
On their first mission, on May 12 — Benavente and Micolon spotted two boats.
The first was empty. It had been marked “SAR 12/05/18,” indicating the migrants had been rescued earlier in the day. The other, a Zodiac inflatable boat with over 100 people on board, was in the midst of its own rescue operation. After six hours and 870 miles in the air, Benavente and Micolon returned to Malta satisfied.
When two planes are available, Micolon said, the groups divide the search area or split the day to provide aerial cover for more hours in the day.
Tamino Bohm, the head of the “Moonbird” mission at Sea-Watch, told NBC News that he welcomed the arrival of Pilotes Volontaires.
“We have proven that civil aerial reconnaissance is needed, and as the search and rescue area is extremely big, we’re really looking forward to cooperating with Pilotes Volontaires in the future,” he said. “As we are both based in different locations, the different weather might ground one of us on certain days, so then the other aircraft can still go out.”
Benavente and Micolon have only just spread their wings over the Mediterranean, but they have already received 20 percent of their estimated budget through donations. They hope public support will help their little hummingbird have a big impact.