Rich Pickett is SDSU’s CIO and a licensed pilot for 32 years. He is volunteering his time to fly relief flights to earthquake ravaged Haiti and will be sharing his experiences here as often as he is able …
Brandon and I almost didn’t make it to Port Au Prince. Due to the disaster they have instituted a reservation slot process. Without an arrival slot, which you have to make within certain time limits, you can’t land at Port au Prince (airport code MTPP). No slots were available after many attempts, so I told the medical workers that I would deliver the equipment and ask for forgiveness later. You are not even allowed to leave Florida without a reservation. Just before departure I met a doctor who was returning and he said he could have helped many people if the equipment had been there earlier. Just before starting the engine, Rhonda (one of the relief workers) called and said we could have a slot reserved for someone else, however we had to be there in 2 hours. The flight takes 3 hours, however I hoped to increase the power and squeeze in. It was wishful thinking, however sometimes it is the thought that counts!
A fast moving weather system with thunderstorms and lightning was approaching the airport, with several rain cells in our path. After departure I asked every Air Traffic Control (ATC) controller for shortcuts, telling them the equipment I had on board. Everyone was great and we shaved a few minutes off the time. The route was getting familiar so after leveling off at 27,000 I started planning the rest of the flight. We arrived an hour late over one of the fixes on the outside of the MTPP airspace. I called the controllers and apologized for my tardiness and explained my cargo. It was almost dark and Port Au Prince is the only airport in Haiti with lights, so our options were limited within Haiti. Todd’s airplane had 7 hours of endurance, so I could fly to another country if necessary. They were gracious and cleared me to land.
After shutting down the engines, Brandon and I quickly tried to contact the doctor, Rick Bonnell, who would receive the C-Arm X-Ray machine. Communications isn’t great in Haiti and it did take some time using our satellite phone, then all of a sudden a truck and forklift appeared. The medical staff were thrilled. A large business jet was originally scheduled, however it didn’t have a large enough door for the use of a forklift.
With all of us watching, the forklift operator successfully removed it from the airplane without even a scratch. Brandon and I had also brought supplies provided by Bahamas Habitat as well as the toys we purchased and other items. While the machine was great, Dr. Bonnell was pleasantly surprised we brought toys for the patients and and after he told me he utilizes a peanut butter diet for some patients, we dropped off a case to him as well as other supplies. He wanted us to save some supplies for Jacmel, which he thought was in even worse shape.
We always meet new friends during our visits and this was no different. We met a Stacy, who’s mom was a faculty member at SDSU. A young friend of her’s had just died of a fever. We comforted her and asked if she had any needs for our next trip, just a few items for the clinics. We also ran into Sam Bloch of Burners without Borders , whom we had be
en in contact with earlier in another city. He needed portable canopies for the doctors in the field. I knew where we could get my hands on a dozen, so we planned to bring them later. One of the airport workers tentatively approached me and said he had a one-month old baby and asked if we had any formula. We checked and didn’t think it was in our cargo. I gave the father $40 in the hopes he could buy some for his baby and we also provided him with some food for his family.
It was dark now and it was clear that it would not be a good idea to navigate the valleys to Jacmel, so we kept the supplies for them inside, closed the cargo door and decided to head to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos, to refuel and stay over night. Jet-A fuel is $10/gallon in Port Au Prince, and since we burn 350 gallons on a roundtrip, it would save save money for another trip.
We hadn’t planned on stopping in the Turks and Caicos, so we didn’t have a flight plan or a change of clothes.
Everybody was accommodating of our situation and helped us, including the people at the Providenciales airport who took us to a hotel to meet our other team members, who stayed on the island for the day and provided more space in the plane for the X-Ray machine, and provided discounted fuel.
On the way out of Port Au Prince, we hear several other airplanes navigating the ocean on voluntary relief flights. The shear number of private, and corporate, aircraft and their pilots in support of Haiti is amazing. Virtually all of these individuals and companies are supporting all of the costs. Without this aerial armada of volunteers the lives of many thousands of Haitians would would be severely impacted. Todd’s generous offer of the use of his plane, time, and most of the fuel has made our trip possible.
The rest of our team provided excellent support for various phases of our flights.