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Coronavirus postpones Tangier Island Holly Run

Coordinator Helen Woods of Chesapeake Sport Pilot at Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville, Maryland, said concerns about the coronavirus pandemic “and specifically, the ramifications of bringing a large group of pilots from multiple states out to an island full of elderly people with limited health care” meant the annual pancake breakfast and fly-out would be rescheduled to 2021.

“We were really hoping that the promise of antigen ‘rapid tests’ would provide a safe solution to allow us to continue with our annual fly-out,” she wrote to participating pilots. “Unfortunately, the headlines … have brought the stark reality” of those limitations to the forefront of residents’ minds. Woods was hopeful the aviation outreach begun by Ercoupe pilot Ed Nabb more than 50 years ago would continue “after the population of the island has been vaccinated against COVID.”

Other parts of the annual tradition will continue, Woods said. Plans are coming together for a Zoom call between islander youth, Santa, and Mrs. Claus; and she reminded aviators that donations for the church’s health and welfare fund are welcome. “Amazon now delivers to the island so we will establish gift registries for the school and the church which distributes goods to the elderly,” she added.

Santa, who flew a red, white, and blue Van's RV-7A, stands with Ed Nabb Jr. in a hangar at Bay Bridge Airport prior to departing for Tangier Island. Nabb's father founded the Holly Run in 1968. Photo by Joe Kildea.

In past years, Santa has given Rudolph and the team of eight reindeer the day off and flown in a general aviation aircraft dubbed “Rudolph One.” When Father Christmas isn’t pilot in command, the red-suited right-seater has participated as an extra set of eyes and the chief of delivery and distribution.

Upon landing, island youth scoop up bags of holly boughs, books, and other donations from the volunteer pilots visiting Tangier Island Airport. Church services, singing, and fresh fish lunches have warmed the hearts and tummies of participating pilots since 1968.

The 2019 fly-out brought 100 aviators in 44 aircraft and “raised a ton of money” for needy residents that helped them cope with harsh winter conditions on the wind-swept island that is only reachable via GA aircraft or by ferry boat. Woods thanked pilots for making a “critical impact in the lives of islanders who suddenly found themselves out of work due to the shut down and the slowdown in tourism” and hoped continued donations “will once again help those affected by the hardships of this pandemic on the island.”

During the coronavirus pandemic’s early stages, Virginia Department of Aviation Director Mark Flynn asked pilots to avoid landing at the island airport because the isolated residents hadn’t had any known exposure to the COVID-19 infection at that time.

A view of Tangier Island, Virginia, from the air. Photo courtesy of Ed Remsberg,

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