LEE COUNTY, Fla.- A local non-profit is taking to Southwest Florida skies, all in the name of public safety. The Sundowners Club assists the U.S. Coast Guard by serving as an extra set of eyes flying hundreds of feet above Lee County's coast.
In a steady sweep, the Sundowners' Cessna 172 effortlessly takes off into the Southwest Florida skies. But their sunset flights are more than just a joyride. They're looking for broken-down boaters.
"What we tend to focus on are the outer regions where there is less density of boats, where somebody might be out and need some help," Sundowners pilot Marc Miller said Friday.
The Sundowners send up crews each Saturday and Sunday. A pilot and volunteer observers survey 120 miles of Lee County coastline, targeting areas from south of Punta Gorda all the way to the Collier County line.
Sundowners pilots fly about 500 feet above ground, low enough so that they can spot any boaters stranded off the coast.
From their aerial perspective, observers can quickly take down coordinates of distressed boaters and pass them on to the Coast Guard.
"We want to catch people that might be caught out and be able to find help for them before nightfall," Miller said.
But believe it or not, the Sundowners need spotters. Most of the nonprofit's observers are seasonal, leaving their volunteer base depleted.
"We were down to just six or eight. So they were going multiple times during a month," Chief Observer Earl Leamer said Friday.
Observers don't need any aviation experience, but they are required to pay dues, which are down to $15 a month. Some say it's a small price for a big view of Southwest Florida.
"It's hard when you're up here to keep your eyes down, you always want to look at the sky because it's so beautiful," Sundowners pilot/observer Carl Keene said.
For more information on the Sundowners Club, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-481-2801.
The Sundowners Club 5th Annual Hangar Dance is planned for November 5th from 6-10:30pm. The fundraiser will be held at the Page Field ACI Hangar, located at 325 Danley Drive in Fort Myers.