Changing Planet

Flying Over After a Hurricane

Soon after Hurricane Odile roared through Cabo San Lucas and the far end of Baja California with 120 mile-per-hour winds, LightHawk was in the air to document the extensive wind and flood damage left by the Category 3 storm.

Filmmaker Jeff Litton joined the LightHawk aerial survey of hurricane damage on short notice. image: Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support from LightHawk

LightHawk’s Mesoamerica program manager Armando J. Ubeda worked to bring the expedition together quickly. National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins and filmmaker Jeff Litton threw their gear in bags and joined veteran LightHawk pilot Chuck Schroll in Tucson, Arizona. Just as they had done in May 2013 when they photographed Baja with LightHawk, they settled in to LightHawk’s Cessna 206 on another doors off photographic mission over Baja.

Capturing aerial images of the damage was critical in determining how much habitat restoration would be needed. It was also important to show post-Odile images and footage as compared with the baseline images acquired during the first phase of the Baja Aerial Archive project in May 2013.

Land's End, Cabo San Lucas in 2013. Note the presence of sand under the iconic arch. image: Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support from LightHawk
Land’s End, Cabo San Lucas in May 2013. Note the beach under the iconic arch. image: Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support from LightHawk

By comparing before and after images of key natural areas and developed sites, the aerial images show significant changes following the hurricane event.

A Google map shows where LightHawk flew to document after effects of Hurricane Odile.
A Google map shows where LightHawk flew and enabled Ralph Lee Hopkins and Jeff Litton to document after effects of Hurricane Odile.

Hopkins recounts the journey, “in a span of three days, we flew 1700 nautical miles, captured 8000 geo-tagged frames, and shot several hours of video. These images will be added to the Baja Aerial Archive managed by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), and will be available for scientists and conservation groups working to protect Baja’s wild coast and Sea of Cortez.”

This expedition was made possible by the International Community Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, WildCoast, Resources Legacy Fund, and LightHawk.

Visit Impacts of Hurricane Odile – Baja California 2014 for a gallery of 41 aerial images.

After spending a year and four days in the extreme cold and white of Antarctica, I came back to the world a changed person. My passion is to share stories of people doing extraordinary things and I've done that since 2008 as the chief storyteller for LightHawk.LightHawk is a unique non-profit that grants flights to conservation groups through a network of volunteer pilots. Nearly everyday LightHawk donates educational, scientific and photography flights covering the U.S., Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk volunteer pilots, aircraft and resources help to tip the balance toward sustainability for every major environmental issue within our targeted areas of focus.My favorite part of flying at 1,000 feet in a small aircraft is seeing how that perspective changes how people see their communities and empowers them to take positive action on behalf of conservation. Taking off is pretty cool too.

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