Discover an Untold Story of Humanitarian Heroism – Operation Lights Out

The documentary film, "Operation Lights Out - The Story of Canairelief” is set to be released on May 30, 2023. It can be accessed through Vimeo On Demand in Canada and around the world.

Loading of Joint Church Aid relief supplies on island of Sao Tomé. Photo: Peter Williams


Operation Lights Out – The Story of Canairelief” is a powerful film that reveals the untold story of the Biafran Airlift – the largest non-governmental humanitarian war relief effort in history.  The film highlights the incredible bravery and humanitarianism of Canadians who took part in the airlift known as Joint Church Aid (JCA).  The effort saved an estimated one million lives and ultimately led to the establishment of global humanitarian organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (aka Doctors Without Borders), Concern Worldwide and thrust other agencies into the humanitarian spotlight such as Save the Children, Christian Aid and Oxfam.  The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), which led to the necessity of the Biafran airlift, left over two million people dead.  Primarily women and children were subjected to unimaginable suffering and starvation. However, in the midst of this crisis, a group of selfless individuals came together to orchestrate an unprecedented relief effort that forever changed the landscape of humanitarian aid.

A field that had been converted into a makeshift airport in Calabar, Nigeria, where relief efforts were aided by a helicopter team. These helicopters could move one ton of crated, dry fish quickly to refugee camps in the Nigerian-Biafran war zone. Image via Wikipedia

The untold role of exemplary Canadians is highlighted.  Oxfam Canada collaborated with The Presbyterian Church in Canada and a private businessman, Jack Grant, to purchase for $108,000, the first of five Super Constellation airplanes, for what became one of the most impactful non-profit airlines in history.  Canairelief was born when The Presbyterian Church in Canada and Oxfam Canada put down $50,000.00 each, while Jack Grant wrote a personal check for $8,000.00. This pivotal moment was crucial for the larger JCA as the Canadian super constellation aircraft had a 20 tons capacity, the largest in the airlift.  The effort was ultimately responsible for feeding 200,000 people every day.

The Biafran Airlift is virtually unknown to the general public.  Unlike the Berlin Airlift, which was accomplished by governments, the Biafran Airlift was the largest civilian airlift in world history, with 80,000 tonnes of food and medicine transported by over 7,000 flights. This epochal effort was coordinated in its entirety by a number of non-governmental organizations in the face of deadly resistance.

A helicopter, which has landed at a makeshift airport in Calabar, Nigeria, is loaded with crates of dried fish, a staple food in that area, to be shipped to refugee camps during the Nigerian-Biafran war. Image via Wikipedia

As we approach the 56th anniversary of Biafra’s declaration of independence, May 30, which sparked this devastating conflict, there is an opportunity to reflect on the lessons of humanitarian history and ongoing and emerging crises, especially in Africa.  On May 30, 2023, “Operation Lights Out” will be released via “Vimeo On Demand”.  The film has taken five years to produce.

It is the desire of the creator and director of the film, Angela Onuora, to ensure that the legacy of the Canadian contribution to the Biafran Airlift lives on.  We would be grateful if you could share the news of the release of the film as widely as possible within your communities and networks ensuring that this incredible story of compassion and courage reaches as many people as possible. To stay updated, please encourage them to visit the website at and sign up for the mailing list.  For your reference, we have also attached a Press Kit with more information, and the link here will give an introduction video series to help further explain why this film is important.

Canairelief flew four purchased ex-Nordair Super Constellations. Image via Wikipedia



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