With Highway 101 Blocked by Tons of Mud, Volunteer Pilot Flies Cancer Patient to Treatments

A drive that normally takes 15 minutes became an hourslong series of detours following the mudflow that blocked Highway 101 in Montecito

An estimated 15,000 daily commuters use a stretch of Highway 101 that has been blocked for a week by mud and debris after the deadly winter storm that slammed Southern California.

In the case of Joanne Vega, the road is a lifeline. The breast cancer patient lives in Carpinteria and needs daily radiation therapy at a hospital in Santa Barbara.

"You can imagine how stressed I was and how anxious I was," Vega said of the blocked freeway. "I was worried. I was absolutely panicked."

What was a 15-minute drive northwest along the coastal highway became an hourslong detour up mountain roads, then back down to Santa Barbara after the Jan. 9 landslides covered the road in tons of mud. That detour would have derailed Vega's progress. 

Help came from above -- in the form of a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza piloted by Jeff Moorhouse. Vega connected with Moorhouse on Thomas Fire Help, a website that helps people affected by the back-to-back Thomas fire and mudflow disasters with resources, supplies, animal assistance and transportation. Vega boards a plane with Moorhouse at Oxnard Airport in Ventura County and flies to her treatments free of charge in about 20 minutes.

"He's a hero, to everybody," Vega said. "He's a big hero."

It's one of several flights offered by volunteer pilots in the wake of the road closure. 

"It certainly makes you feel good, and I'm just glad I'm able to give back," Moorhouse said.

Highway 101 in the Montecito area is expected remain closed until Monday and the search continues for storm victims. Twenty people died in the mudflow, triggered by downpours in the 252,000-acre Thomas fire burn area, hillsides above Montecito that scorched in December by the largest wildfire on record in California.

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