Haiti Flight by Warbird Members Brings Needed Supplies

    By Ron Alexander, Warbird #594155

    February 9, 2010 - Glen Marsh and I departed St. Simons, GA early on January 31st bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti in my King Air A90.  On board we had a full load of medical supplies along with two emergency room doctors from Albuquerque, NM.  In addition, the founder of an orphanage in Port au Prince, Mr. Beaver Brooks, was onboard.  We were given a “slot time” to arrive in Port au Prince of 1530 Local time (3:30 EST).  Our first stop was Ft. Pierce, Florida where we would refuel the airplane for the next leg of our trip to Provodencialis, a small island in the Turks and Caicos chain.  This stop was necessary to refuel prior to entry into Port au Prince where limited fuel is currently available for general aviation aircraft.  We landed in Provo (as it is called in the islands) where we found people who were extremely helpful.  Once they knew our mission they were even more helpful.  A steady stream of general aviation aircraft carrying workers and supplies had passed through this island on the way to Haiti since the earthquake.   We refueled, filed a flight plan, cleared customs, and ate a quick sandwich that was provided by a local woman who makes the sandwiches daily and brings them to the airport to feed the people on the way to Haiti.  I was amazed at the kindness and assistance exhibited by everyone involved at all of the fixed based operations where we stopped.

    Terminal building with contingent of military tents and supplies.

    We departed Provo at 1430 EST for the 1 hour flight to Port au Prince.  For those of you who are pilots we flew to the Haitian airspace boundary under the air traffic control of Miami Center.  When we entered Haitian airspace we could not make radio contact.  We had been warned by others that the air traffic was heavy in the area and the air traffic control was minimal.  That was an understatement.  We did not make radio contact until we were about 80 miles from our destination.  Even then, we barely understood the instructions of the Haitian controller.  There is no radar in this area at all so traffic separation is accomplished through radio communications only.  We were hopeful that once on approach control frequency that we would encounter United States military controllers.  That did not happen until we contacted the control tower about 10 miles from the field.  Thank God the weather was good.  We had very confusing instructions that we could hardly understand until we reached the tower controller. 

    Aerial view of Port au Prince.

    Haiti is a beautiful country that is laced with very rugged mountains.  Port au Prince lies at the foot of a mountain chain on the west coast of the country.  Our final approach course (landing to the east at the airport) took us over a very picturesque harbor.   The water was dotted with ships – mostly from the United States Navy.  One ship stood out above all the rest, the hospital ship USNS Mercy.  Three red crosses were visible on the side of the ship. 

    We could see some of the destruction while on approach to the runway.  Very few houses had roofs on them.  Small fires were seen in many areas.  Helicopters were everywhere carrying supplies.  Few large buildings were left standing.   

    The city of Port au Prince is spread out over a very large square mile area.  It lies at the foot of a mountain chain.  The airport itself is located almost in the middle of the city.  It has one very long 10,000 ft runway with no parallel taxiways.  When you land you must taxi on the runway to get to the terminal.  The terminal area was full of airplanes including 3 United States Air Force C-17’s.  In addition there was one Russian cargo plane along with a scattering of other aircraft that were being off loaded.  Fortunately, one of our passengers, Beaver Brooks, had made arrangements for us to go to the Missionary Aviation Fellowship ramp, located just to the east of the main terminal. 

    When we taxied in we were met by several locals who assisted in unloading all of the supplies.  A nurse we were expecting to meet us was there waiting anxiously.  One of the doctors we carried was in his mid thirties and the other in his fifties.  When they stepped off the airplane I could see the apprehension in their faces.  They did not know what to expect, where they would sleep, or how they would return to their home.  The older doctor told me “this is the first trip I have taken without an exit plan or knowing how or when I will get back home.”  I told them to contact us and we would be back to pick them up. 

    The nurse came up to them, hugged them, and told them that she had spent the entire day wrapping stumps of legs and arms that were amputated.  She had just finished wrapping a woman’s leg who had also lost her 4 year old daughter in the earthquake.  The look of anguish in the eyes of the nurse was unforgettable.  She said that she had never seen so many people without limbs.  She told us that people had been waiting for medical attention for days some with compound fractures and most with major injuries.  Operations are being performed without proper anesthesia, medicines are needed, and narcotics for pain are needed.

    We watched the doctors disappear from our view walking alongside the nurse.  I felt their uncertainty and could not help but wonder what they were going to encounter within a few minutes.  The living conditions of the volunteers are primitive at best.  Most are living in their own pup tents.  There is no electricity.  Food and water is scarce.   The airport is laden with tents and supplies.  Acres and acres of shipping containers are waiting to be distributed.  Beaver Brooks, the gentleman who operates the orphanage, told us that his ministry is feeding 3,000 people per day.  He said they need to be feeding 30,000 per day.  He stated that the biggest challenge they are encountering is getting food and water distributed to the people. 

    We were on the ground less than 1 hour.  General aviation airplanes are only given 1 hour to offload and depart the airport.  We called the military tower and received permission to takeoff without a flight plan.  We had no way to file a flight plan.    There was no air traffic control until we were about 50 miles north of the Haiti coastline where we picked up a familiar voice through the air traffic controllers at Miami Center.  We then made our way back to Provo to spend the night.

    I spent one year in Viet Nam witnessing a lot of pain and suffering.  What little I saw in Port au Prince rivals that experience.  The death, suffering, and devastation are beyond comprehension.  I do not believe that we have any words in our language that can adequately describe what has happened to the people of Haiti.  I can tell you that if you would like to help these people there are two organizations where you can give your money and be assured it will be used to really help the individuals who need it.  One is called Much Ministry.  Beaver Brooks is the head of this ministry.  He has worked with orphans in Haiti for the past 6 years and has a staff of volunteers who are feeding and caring for the people who have been affected by this tragedy.  You can donate on their website at www.muchministries.org.

    The other group is called Citihope, International.  They are located in Andes, New York.  I have worked with them to get people and supplies to Haiti.  I know money spent there will also get aid to the people who are in need.  They may be reached at www.citihope.org .    You can go to the websites mentioned and read stories about Haiti and what they are doing to help.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to do that.

    I also want to emphasize the importance of the role general aviation has played in supplying relief for this disaster.  General aviation and corporate aircraft from all over the country have responded to the needs of these people by transporting doctors, nurses, volunteers, medical supplies, food, etc. to Haiti and also to the Dominican Republic where a number of hospitals have been set up for the Haitian people.  The majority of pilots and aircraft owners are volunteering their time along with the cost of operating their airplanes.  During a time when general aviation is receiving a lot of negative press, we need to direct attention to the positive efforts being put forward by this group of pilots, mechanics, and aircraft owners.  Never have I seen such an outpouring of support by so many airplane people.  Without their help the disaster relief efforts for the people of Haiti would be lacking.  The response has been overwhelming and the general public needs to be aware of the capabilities that exist within the general aviation community along with their willingness to help.

    I share this story with you not to bring attention to myself or any other individual pilot involved in humanitarian flights to Haiti.  I simply want you to be aware of what is really happening there and understand what you can do to help.  If you want to participate in a flight please let me know and I will direct you to the right people.

    The following is a brief account of another flight flown by local pilot Lance Toland.  Lance flew to the Dominican Republic immediately after the earthquake.  His story will provide emphasis to what I have written.

    “As many of you are now sadly aware, we were unsuccessful in finding Courtney Hayes last week.  Courtney was my friend’s niece and in Haiti at the Montana Hotel.  Courtney was a 20-year old missionary and PA student.   She is now presumed dead.  Please keep Courtney and her family in your thoughts and prayers.   The trip was successful in other areas, however.  I was able to supply needed orthopedic surgical supplies to a doctor friend’s Dominican boarder clinic using another friend’s Bell 206 (made me appreciate my EC120) and one rental R44.  Before I left Griffin, Georgia, in the PC12,  I called my life-long friend, Dr. Tommy Hopkins, for help.  Tommy was performing a hip replacement at the time.  Within 45 minutes of calling, Tommy responded with hundreds of pounds of surgical supplies.   Additionally, a local pharmacist, David Clements, on very short notice, unloaded a pickup truck of orthopedic supplies into my PC12. 

    I spent a brief amount of time in the border clinic assisting alongside medical school and veterinarian students.  I met surgeons who made me realize how desperate their needs are. With that realization, I knew I had to do more.  I made a number of calls to CEOs and corporate aircraft owners I know who turned their corporate flight departments over to me to get needed surgical supplies, critical antibiotics and doctors into Haiti. I am excited to tell you that dozens of flights (we lost count) have been flown into Haiti carrying those desperately needed supplies and doctors.  Those flights are from the same group of operators who were vilified in the news media just a few months ago. 

    Please help me get this information out to everyone—every television, radio, newspaper, blog, etc.—who will listen! General aviation made an incredible difference alongside the Haitian people.”



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