formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

January 26, 2010 Haiti rescue efforts

The Liberty Gazette
January 26, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
A few years ago I was in a Learjet waiting to depart from West Palm Beach Airport when an old Douglas DC-3 made its approach and landed with the sun right behind it. I was able to capture that image with a camera I had with me. That DC-3 and three others like it are operated by Missionary Flights International (MFI) of Fort Pierce, Florida.

MFI has been serving missionary operations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas since 1964. They are among the many organizations and individuals who are helping with relief efforts after Haiti’s massive earthquake.

Port-au-Prince, the capitol city of Haiti, the poorest country in the Caribbean, is about 630 nautical miles southeast of Miami. It’s about 1,400 nautical miles from Liberty, as the crow flies.

When the disaster struck, MFI’s DC-3s delivered some of the initial aid the fastest way possible, by air. Ships can deliver more goods at one time but it takes time to round up supplies, and then journey by sea takes many more days.

An MFI DC-3 will make the trip from Fort Pierce to Port-au-Prince and Cape Haitian in just hours carrying about 5,000 pounds of food, medical supplies and toiletries. And on their first trip outbound they carried 23 evacuees from the devastated area.

But the challenges facing pilots flying into Haiti are many, including security and logistics. Sometimes there is not enough room to land. On January 14th the ramp at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport was congested with 44 aircraft, meaning several other aircraft had to be turned away.

Then, as supplies of fuel began to dwindle, some of those that had made the journey were not sure they would have enough fuel left to depart. MFI’s planes landed at Great Exhuma in the Bahamas for fuel. The U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, to the area so they could use helicopters in the relief effort.

MFI is not alone is their service to the poor countries of the Caribbean. They partner with Mission Aviation Fellowship which operates three single-engine aircraft inside Haiti. MFI is also assisting the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse which leased a DC-6 to deliver 25,000 pounds of relief supplies to Haiti last week.

In Haiti as in any disaster, aircraft operated by relief organizations and individuals are often among the first responders because they can get needed relief supplies to the location in a lot shorter time than by other means. That the situation is chaotic and volatile is an understatement and though supplies may not be as plentiful as what will come later by ship, every little bit now is important. Airplanes and helicopters are often among the first signs of hope many people in these stricken areas see.

Linda: From my own experience flying in Central Africa with Mission Aviation Fellowship and African Inland Missions Air, this kind of flying has a unique feel to it. Often protocol is necessarily different from flying in safer, more peaceful areas, but in the end it is the most rewarding kind of flying a pilot can do. Any time we can contribute to helping others in need, in our own small way, the rewards are always greater than any investment we’ve made of ourselves.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

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