Love Story paved Way for Busiest Airstrip in Central America Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 15 November 2012 00:00

Official ribbon cutting ceremonyOn December 16th, 2010 the Belize Airport Authority broke ground on a $3.7 million project to rehabilitate and modernize the San Pedro Airstrip. The project was made possible through the support of the Central American Cooperation for Air Navigation Services (COCESNA). COCESNA has the exclusive rights to provide air traffic services, aeronautical telecommunications and radio navigation aids for international civil aviation in the territories of member states: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Almost two years later, on November 8th, 2012, the new and improved airstrip reopened as the John Grief II Airport.

The rehabilitation project included the upgrading of the landing strip, security fencing, larger parking area for private aircrafts, adequate lighting for emergency night-landings and a general enhancement of the safety and security features on the compound. The landing strip was elevated by about four to five inches; it was widened by thirty feet and paved with hot mix for greater durability. At the time of the project launch, pedestrians from outside the airstrip, and even motorists, could have easily accessed the compound and move across the runway at will. It was an extremely dangerous situation however, the new security fencing has put an end to that. The new lighting guarantees that the busiest airstrip in Central America will no longer have to shut down as the sun sets.

While he may not be happy about the fact that San Pedro evolved into a busy municipality, John Grief II would have definitely been proud of the improved airstrip. After all, it was his love story that gave birth to the airstrip. Grief was a fighter pilot in World War II. He later came to Belize and fell in love with a San Pedrana, Celi McCorkle. On July 1st, 1957, Grief visited San Pedro for the first time, landing in a sea plane in the back lagoon. He later married McCorkle and eventually moved the family to San Pedro. In the words of his wife, on that July 1st day Grief “walked through the sandy streets of San Pedro to deliver a letter to my mother, who lived on the beach where the San Pedro Holiday Hotel is now located. When John saw the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean ocean and the white sandy beaches and the swaying coconut trees he fell in love instantly with San Pedro. He use to tell me that he landed in heaven.”

Grief lobbied for Government to build an airstrip. His effort resulted in him being granted permission to use the land where the airstrip is currently located. Grief and his wife, along with a few other San Pedranas, cleared a short runway using tools such as machetes and axes. Grief then bought an airplane that could carry the pilot and a passenger. He started flying injured and seriously ill patients from San Pedro to Belize City for medical attention. This was done free of charge until he eventually received an airline license from Government. The Grief family now operates Tropic Air.