MAF Bangladesh celebrates 17 years

In 1970, a cyclone hit the southern coast of Bangladesh.  So severe and deadly were its effects that it is still listed as the world’s worst-ever reported natural disaster. Over 500,000 people died and millions were made homeless in a single day.

The event had a big impact on two men from Sweden serving with MAF at the time. They traveled immediately to Bangladesh for the sole purpose of seeing what they could do to help in the midst of so much devastation. They journeyed south by boat for several days, throughout the country’s vast river network to reach the worst-affected area (the island of Bhola) and began to envision MAF using an aircraft that could operate from both land and water.

This kind of versatility would enable direct access to vast areas of a country that were almost out of reach – a major hindrance in times of emergency. An amphibious  aircraft would open the way for humanitarian, development, mission and medical groups to reach millions of isolated people in minutes, not days or weeks.

The vision that grew as a rallying call went out to the MAF international network of pilots engineers. Throughout the 1980’s, MAF Australia, along with other MAF groups, sent staff to provide training, education and instruction, building trust among the leadership of the aviation community over time. Their patience and dedication paid off.

Finally, in 1997, after 27 years of hard work, the gaining of trust and respect, MAF (Sweden) was able to start a traditional flight program within the country using a DHC Turbo Beaver. In 2003, MAF Sweden handed over the flight operations to MAF International. It was a time when MAF was working extensively with the floating hospitals within the country.

In addition to transporting doctors to and from hospitals located in remote parts of the country, MAF also began a domestic on-call emergency medevac service. Now, families could request the aircraft to assist when the sick or injured needed rapid transport from outlying areas into Dhaka, the capital city.
It soon proved to be a much-needed addition to the program. On November 15, 2007, Cyclone SIDR, a category 4 storm, hit southern Bangladesh. MAF’s rapid response and emergency procedures were seriously tested as the office received over 200 phone calls in one day from humanitarian groups and aid agency personnel in urgent need of transport to and from the disaster zone.

Stranded, homeless cyclone victims were in desperate need of food, clean water and shelter. For the next two months, MAF flew solidly, seven days a week. The float plane became known by grateful locals as ‘The Sea Angel’ – the only aircraft in the country of its type with such range and capabilities.

In 2009, the MAF ‘Sea Angel’ was called on again for rapid assistance when Cyclone Aila struck. Today, MAF Bangladesh makes more than 750 flights each year, serves at least 60 different humanitarian, medical and mission groups and transports around 2,500 passengers.