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Nova Scotia pilot back with message in the sky for missing fishermen


January 7, 2021
By Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

Dimitri Neonakis, the pilot many Canadians were introduced to after he drew a heart in the sky following the Nova Scotia mass shooting in the spring, took to the sky again last month to honour the fisherman lost at sea in December.

Their boat, the scallop dragger the Chief Williams Saulis, is believed to have capsized on carrying crew members Charles Roberts, Mike Drake, Geno Francis, Dan Forbes, Arron Cogswell and Lenny Gabriel.

One body has been recovered.

Neonakis plotted a flight path that formed a heart attached to an anchor, and as always uses a special flight tracker so people can see his flight path making the image.

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The fishermen were based in Yarmouth, so he drew the heart anchor from Digby, near where the boat first signalled an emergency, right to the town of Yarmouth, he said.

Neonakis said he has covered every widely felt tragedy in Nova Scotia through his skywriting since the Portapique shooting.

There have been many: the loss of the Canadian Forces helicopter crew off the coast of Greece, the disappearance of three-year-old Dylan Ehler who went missing and is presumed dead, and the death of Snowbirds Capt. Jenn Casey.

On a couple of occasions he has drawn something for a good occasion, but tragedy has dominated his writings so far, Neonakis said.

“I hope each time this will be the last tragic one,” he said.

But the skywriting seems to be impacting people a lot, especially those directly affected by the tragedies, he said.

In many of the cases, family members of those who have been killed have messaged him saying his sky writing has brought comfort to them.

“I feel a lump in my throat when it comes from families affected,” Neonakis, said, adding that he has already received a message from a family member of one of the crew members of the Chief William Saulis. “Sometimes the messages from those directly affected take my breath away.”

But it gives him the strength to move on and do the next one knowing that they really do make a difference, he said.

“I have never felt closer to so many thousands of people I have never met than I have this year,” he said, adding that the outpouring of support has been amazing. “I’ve never felt prouder to call myself a Nova Scotian. Nova Scotia Strong is an understatement.”

This week’s flight is special because he was able to directly connect it to a fundraiser for the lost fishermen’s families, he said, adding that the post he made about his flight and the fundraiser has gone viral. In three days, the GoFundMe Neonakis has been working with others to promote has raised over $50,000, he said.

The flight itself was particularly daunting, he said, because the weather was bad. He almost turned back as he was pushing visibility limits for safe flying.

At the top of the heart, you can see the curve is imperfect, that’s because he was actually turning back heading home for safety reasons, but he hit a patch of clear skies and decided to push on. “I’m glad I did,” he said.

“Our wings got heavy. I picked up ice,” he said.

As he flew through clearer skies, he said he reflected that this particular flight felt a lot like what 2020 has been for many in Nova Scotia. “Our wings got heavy. Our courage got tested, but here we are,” he said. “We’re getting through it, and we’ve moving forward.”


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