GREAT ABACO, The Bahamas — At first they thought it was another pile of debris. But, thanks to a hunch, a volunteer team discovered via helicopter a community of about 40 people who were trapped and living without food in smashed cars and wreckage days after Hurricane Dorian tore through the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas.
Justin and Angela Johnson, who run Timberview Helicopters in Destin, Florida, have been conducting search and rescue missions and helping drop off supplies and resources to remote towns across the most decimated parts of the Bahamas.
Last week, the couple took an "impromptu flight" to Fox Town alongside Medic Corps, or Medical Evacuation Disaster Intervention Corps, a nonprofit that helps people in disasters, said Vic Micolucci, a reporter from Jacksonville, Florida, who was along for the ride.
"We saw this thing in the distance, and I asked if we could fly over it because it looks really devastated. And the pilot said, 'Oh, it's a landfill, it probably looked like that before,'" Micolucci said. "So we kept going."
The couple added that they had flown over the area several times but never saw any signs of life.
But the next day, Justin Johnson "felt an urge" to go back, fly a little closer, and "even sit down on the ground to check out Vic's suspicions," Angela Johnson wrote on Facebook.
When her husband touched down, about 30 to 40 people began climbing out of crushed cars, crumpled homes, and debris, where they had been living since the storm wiped out the nearby community of Treasure Cay and basically the rest of Great Abaco Island.
"It was unbelievable," Angela Johnson told BuzzFeed News at the Marsh Harbour airport last week, right after the discovery. "No one knew they were there this entire time. We didn't even think anyone was there."
Shocked, the pilot quickly looped in the Medic Corps team, which had been organizing and facilitating supplies pick-ups and drop-offs from Marsh Harbour's airport, as well as collecting information about different islands and directing resources to areas with critical needs.
After the couple found the stranded survivors, they and a Blackhawk helicopter, flown by Love and Life Foundation, another non-profit, and went back up to the devastated community to "take additional loads," Angela Johnson said.
Facebook videos also show women clapping and cheering in front of a pile of supplies — boxes of food, water, baby supplies, tarps, and other critical resources — as the chopper started up.
Like most of the residents who stayed behind and are still living in dire conditions across Great Abaco Island, these people are undocumented Haitian immigrants, Medic Corps told NBC News.
They are "afraid of being deported, so it is sometimes difficult to provide evacuation to these communities, and they aren’t the first to show themselves,” Medic Corps said.
Haitians living in other shanty towns, like Sand Banks, which now look like unrecognizable junkyards, told BuzzFeed News they fear that if they leave what remains of their homes, the government will prevent them from returning.
A week later, Angela Johnson said that the Love and Life Foundation has kept in contact with the once-stranded group.
"They have gone back to check on the community as well as other places we had been to," she said.
In a Facebook update on Tuesday night, the Johnson's encouraged those who want to help the outpost of survivors to donate to Love and Life, which has "some very big plans for continued relief and the future rebuild in The Abacos."
"That group has been very well watched over," she told BuzzFeed News.