Hurricane Ian: Storm follows pilot who flew plane from Florida to South Carolina

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. — A Florida man who was evacuating planes for his flight school from Florida to South Carolina before Hurricane Ian arrived had an unwelcome surprise -- the storm followed him after he fled north.

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“How on earth can you be so lucky?” Cullen Moorhead, 20, of Clearwater, said sarcastically to The New York Times on Friday. “We were safe and going to be coming home today. Nope.”

Moorhead, a senior majoring in communications at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is a private pilot in Clearwater, the newspaper reported. As Ian took aim at the Tampa Bay region on Monday, Moorhead was instructed by the flight school to help move the facility’s planes to a safer spot.

At 7 a.m. EDT, he loaded his parents and their possessions into a Cessna plane and flew them to Georgetown, South Carolina, to his grandmother’s home at Pawleys Island, according to the Times.

Moorhead, who safely stored the airplane 15 miles away at a local airport, then watched in dismay as Ian battered the southwest Florida coast, crossed the peninsula and took aim at the South Carolina coast.

Ian, which regenerated to a Category 1 hurricane after losing its punch while traveling across Florida, made landfall for a third time -- near Georgetown and his grandmother’s home.

“Then you’re like, ‘That kind of looks like it’s headed toward me,’” Moorhead told the Times.

It was.

Waves topping 7 feet crashed into the South Carolina home, while the Tampa Bay area was spared from the worst of Ian.

The water rose and flooded the ground floor of the house, the Times reported. Moorhead and his father waded in waist-deep water to prevent a propane tank from floating away.

Unfortunately, mementos of his grandfather, who died several weeks ago, were damaged by the waters.

“My mom is devastated,” Moorhead told the newspaper. “Everything of my grandpa’s is just floating in water.”

Moorhead, who expects to graduate from USF in May, has been a pilot at the Clearwater flight school for nearly two years.

“Aviation has always been my passion ever since my first flight as a child,” Moorhead’s resume on LinkedIn states.

Moorhead told the Times he viewed flying as a way to escape from reality, but those sensations were crushed by Ian’s destructive force.

“Of all the places flying has taken me so far, I never thought it’d lead me right into the path of a hurricane,” Moorhead told the newspaper.