Local Aviators Help Deliver Supplies to the Back Country

By Zach Rosen   |   January 24, 2023
Seth Hammond (center) delivering mail and supplies in his helicopter to Deborah and Bryon Davis

With the highway closures after the recent storm, losing access to those major roadways can make one feel isolated and trapped. But for the few living deep in the back country, that sensation can only compound with limited roads to get in and out of the area. 

This was the situation that Bryon and Deborah Davis found themselves in when the recent storms had washed out the single road to their Mill Creek Ranch where they live. The ranch is located in the Manzana Canyon area behind the Santa Ynez Mountains. The couple has been living there full-time for 12 years; however, Bryon has a lifetime of experiences with the area since his great-grandfather first moved there in 1880.

With their road awash and unusable for an unforeseen amount of time, Bryon and Deborah felt trapped, not knowing how they were going to get to Santa Ynez, their normal supply town. For both of them, the primary concern was for feeding their pets and livestock, which include one horse, a dog, 22 chickens, and of course, two ravens. The distance from their ranch to Santa Ynez is about eight miles how the crow (or pet raven) flies, however the horse path they take to town is around 40 miles, which is about two hours in their vehicle. Thankfully, help was on the way due to friends in high places. 

Around a year ago, the couple had met two local pilots, Doug Cole and Neil Cushman, after flagging down Doug as he was flying over the ranch. Both pilots have small aircraft adapted for short landings and he was able to stop and say hello. The group immediately became fast friends and Bryon and Deborah reached out to them through a satellite connection about their plight. Friends, companies, and other good Samaritans donated supplies – in fact, 1,200 pounds of them – once they heard of the situation. 

Doug and Neil’s fixed-wing planes would have trouble landing in the storm-ridden property, but their friend Seth Hammond, who owns a helicopter, would be able to make the landing without worry. He immediately agreed to help. “I really didn’t catch the drift of the excitement until they called [Monday night] and said we’re gonna push our flight time off an hour because we want you to take the mail in,” says Seth. “All of a sudden it dawned on me that here I was doing the same thing that my father did in 1934.”

Seth’s father, George Hammond of Bonnymede and Hammond’s Beach, was an avid aviator – personal friends with Charles Lindbergh and collaborator on the Spirit of St. Louis – installing an airfield on the Montecito property; he later became friends with the Lester family of San Miguel Island, delivering them mail and supplies from 1934-1941. 

While his father was always fixed-wing focused, Seth’s first experience with helicopters was when he was drafted into the Vietnam War, becoming a crew chief and a door gunner on a gunship. Seth later got his helicopter pilot’s license in 1983 and his wife, Tanis, received hers as well. Since then, the two have flown to or through every state in the continental U.S. and five of the Canadian provinces. 

From take-off to landing, it was a 17-minute trip from the Santa Ynez airstrip to the Manzana property. Deb and Bryon later commented at how mind-bending it was to hear of this quick trip versus the two-hour trek they’re used to. Seth’s helicopter has a 1,000-pound useful load capacity, which has to include fuel and supplies. They only flew with about an hour’s worth of fuel, wanting to keep the extra weight for the supplies. It took three round trips in the helicopter, bringing them animal feed, personal (and some comfort) food, diesel fuel, backup water, and of course, the mail. 

Deborah mentioned that she cried when she first saw the helicopter and when she later thanked one of her friends for donating supplies, they replied, “No, thank you for giving us the opportunity to be generous.” It helps to have both friends around town, and in high places.  


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