Maria Rodriguez of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, will receive this year’s HAI Salute to Excellence Appareo Pilot of the Year Award at the organization’s Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner in Las Vegas in February. The award recognizes a single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year or extraordinary professionalism over time. Rodriguez is being recognized for her actions during Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
After the company Rodriguez worked for moved from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland, the pilot opened her own helicopter companies, Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management. The multi-aircraft operations offer helicopter services throughout the Caribbean and yacht support around the world. While she focused her U.S. St. Thomas-based companies on remote/adventure helicopter and seaplane support, Rodriguez was able to fly former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2017.
During the recent hurricane season, Rodriguez’s home was hit by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria. During the first storm, the pilot left her shelter and ventured two hours on a bicycle to reach her hangar at the local airport. Her helicopters were unscathed and she immediately began flying support missions. During Hurricane Maria, Rodriguez moved her helicopters to a reinforced hangar in Puerto Rico and returned to the U.S. Virgin Islands to fly support missions after the storm had passed.
While her passion is aviation, Rodriguez also has an interest in photography. She documented the damage around her home and posted the pictures to social media, where they were highlighted by media outlets around the world. Her photography showed those who did not live on the island the reality of the storms.
Today, Rodriguez continues to serve her community by completing relief missions and posting more photographs.