Should We Stay, Or Should We Go?

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When the earthquake in Haiti first struck about two weeks ago, cool heads were advising general aviation pilots to stay home and send money. This seemed to make sense at the time, when relief flights were stacked up over the single runway at Port au Prince, and general confusion ruled.

But a couple of days ago, a Massachusetts pilot, Scott Martin, turned up on YouTube with a different message. "This is an urgent request for pilots to come down with their planes to Santiago, in the Dominican Republic," he said. "The U.S. relief effort is not in touch with the reality on the ground."

He asked pilots to just get in their airplanes and fly to Fort Lauderdale Executive (FXE) and make their way to the D.R. from there, where they could load their airplanes with urgently needed medical supplies and food to deliver to outlying airfields in Haiti. I called Rol Murrow, the president of the Air Care Alliance, for his take on all this. "There are so many different perspectives," he said. Some folks are adamant that private pilots need to stay out of the way of the professionals, and if they really want to help, send money.

Murrow himself says he has a more "middling attitude," and there are a lot of factors to consider -- the capability of the airplane and the pilot primary among them. He believes there is an urgent need for a lot of additional GA help in the area, and will be for a long time to come. He suggested that any pilots who want to help should first make a connection with a relief group on the ground or work through an established volunteer pilot organization -- but he added that many of those groups may not have the manpower available to coordinate the details necessary to take advantage of those offers.

So should you answer Scott Martin's call to action, and fly to FXE? Or stay home and out of the way? I'm curious to see what AVweb readers think.

Comments (17)

I think there is an interesting question as to what aircraft would be most useful for the mission. AOPA had an article about landing a caravan on a road in Haiti - in that case, probably Cessna 182's and Cherokee 6's would be more useful than a King Air, would take the help closer to where needed, and would avoid the bottleneck at the Port Au Prince airport.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 28, 2010 7:25 PM    Report this comment

OK. Time for a dose of sanity, here. The best way to help in the Haitian relief effort is to donate to the Red Cross, or other reputable relief agency.

Any number of problems can -- and will -- occur should the unprepared and uninitiated attempt to think they can tackle the heat, the lack of any support network, security, and the very real threat of being robbed by desperate starving people people.

But, we live in America, a land replete with 'heroes'. If any one of you think that your Cherokee Six can beat the logistical structure of the U.S. Navy with its carriers and hospital ships, well then, go right ahead.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | January 29, 2010 4:05 AM    Report this comment

Uh, beat the US government's logistical response? Remember New Orleans! I think it would be a mistake to use private aircraft on your own without additional logistical support to aid the disaster recovery, but in coordination with an agency on the ground providing aid, and going to outlying airports, sure!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 29, 2010 6:39 AM    Report this comment

A good friend of mine just returned from Port-de-Paix. He flew in on two relief flights, each backed by reputable charitable and/or missionary organizations. His impressions were similar to Martin's: outlying villages desperately need help, but as of now most (if not all) Red Cross aid is concentrated in Port-au-Prince.

Of course, that's not meant to discourage anyone from donating to the Red Cross, but there are other organizations (such as CARE USA) assisting other areas of the embattled country, that are worthy of consideration as well.

Posted by: Rob Finfrock | January 29, 2010 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Americans have come to feel so marginalized by the paternalism of our government we are led to believe that the only way we can help is to remain on the couch and send money to some relief organization and cheer for the US Navy. If you can't get out and help, by all means send money. But, if you can do something, ignore the self-important pseudo-experts practicing their authoritative voice shouting "step away from the scene, citizen. There's nothing to see here." Heroes are not just soldiers, sailors, firemen, and and I can still be heroes if we just get going -- there is work to do.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | January 30, 2010 12:24 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Hill, I truly appreciate your spirit of volunteerism. However, Haiti is beyond the "first responder" scenario: it need an institutional response, with institutional muscle and heft. And as with any war, Haiti is a logistical challenge. There is simply no better institution to attack this situation than the U.S. military. Feel proud ... feel heroic ... that your tax dollars support such an outstanding force for good.

True, there are those 'naturalists' and 'survivalists' among us that have the wherewithal and resource planning abilities to contend with such a situation as Haiti--but I suspect not many.

One more thing: I reject the notion that those who contribute their hard earned funds to this disaster are any less heroic that those who choose to contribute in a more physical or visceral manner.

But wait: I lied--I do have one more thing to write: your prayers can work miracles.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | January 30, 2010 12:50 PM    Report this comment

Phil, it appears we will have to agree to disagree. There are still many Americans who fit your definition of "naturalists" and "survivalists" (in the most positive meaning those words can have). These are the people who built this country and step in when the work needs to be done. These are the people who volunteer for the military, volunteer for the aid organizations, and are willing to get their hands dirty. Granted, it is not everybody, but I submit that it is more than you give us credit for. I hope that if a disaster ever strikes your town (or mine), there are "survivalists" and "naturalists" who will not wait for FEMA or the fire department or the police department, but jump in and start digging through the rubble to save our loved ones and possibly ourselves.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | January 30, 2010 1:26 PM    Report this comment

Very well said, Mr Hill! If I could get away from work right now, I'd coordinate with a relief agency, pull the back seat out of my 172, and be packing it full of 500lbs of medicine, or food, or whatever and landing on a road in Haiti to help out! I'd leave Port Au Prince to the Red Cross, and focus on the outlying areas. That's what my airplane would be good for. It's not a C130, but a C130 can't land on a gravel road (well, it can, but it would have to be a big road!) The military serves a purpose too, but they are limited to one airport, which is quite the bottleneck right now. We need people like Phil to send money, but his approach isn't going to help the forgotten few in the outlying areas. This spirit of volunteerism is what made America great!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 30, 2010 2:42 PM    Report this comment

My proximity to the military affords me a little insight as to what's happening down there. From what I'm hearing, it is indeed a war zone.

Opinion columns and responses often tend to become categorized as 'right' or 'wrong', but please don't misconstrue my comments as somehow insensitive.

Imagime yourself in a scenarior whereby someone is pinned by falling debris, and you have neither the heavy equipment or manpower to provide aid or rescue. What do you do? Nothing else but supply the dying victim your tears as nourishment.

According to my sources, the most pressing issue seems to be machete wielding thieves and pirates taking advantage of the situation. This is one reason why our military seems best equipped to handle this.

One more thing: military intel seems to be picking up an increase of hostile Taliban-like chatter in this area. I mean, c'mon: what better way to level an attack on the U.S. than hit us when we're on a rescue footing in our own back yard? Castro and Chavez are already rattling the war sabres.

Yes, I'll agree to disagree. But I do so because I feel the situation mandates security, logistics, and trained personnel beyond that normally found at the American Legion.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | January 30, 2010 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Institutions save institutions. America will help the country of Haiti. But, people save people. That person pinned under the debris is still pinned whether we are there doing whatever we can to help, or we are safe on our sofa watching the military airlift on the news. We are safe from those thieves and pirates...but should we be? Do we deserve to be? When we sit securely at home sending money and troops to do what maybe would do us some good to get out and do ourselves. As to Taliban, Chavez, and Castro...we digress. I'd still go.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | January 30, 2010 5:29 PM    Report this comment

Thanks, Rol, for chiming in. I think there are certainly arguments to be made on both sides, and it probably comes down to each individual making an assessment of the needs and their own capabilities... not one right or wrong response. A good reminder too that the needs remain long after the headlines have faded away.

Posted by: Mary Grady | January 31, 2010 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Rol (ACA) makes good points. I just returned from a Graceflight of America board of directors meeting, where we discussed GFA's ongoing relief effort in Haiti. [Including one of our directors, who had just returned from a mission there.]

There most definitely *is* a mission for GA in Haiti, but it must be done with care and diligence. Conditions there are still poor, and the very limited aviation facilities are horribly overloaded. So this is a mission for turboprops and larger GA twins (Pilatus, King Airs, etc.). A Cessna 172, no matter how well intentioned, is just not going to bring enough people and supplies to make a difference, and take up a slot that a larger aircraft could have used.

Pilots of larger aircraft, volunteer with GFA or Angel Flight or some other organization doing relief work in Haiti. Pilots of smaller aircraft, volunteer for extra missions with GFA or Angel Flight, etc. supporting the existing domestic missions - helping free up the pilots of the larger planes. I know it may not be as "sexy" as flying to Haiti - but it will help the most. And that, after all, is what the volunteer efforts are all about.

Posted by: JAMES M KNOX | February 1, 2010 8:33 AM    Report this comment

I heard from a friend just back from Haiti. He said if you don't have a support system and a good plan, don't go. Whatever you need from water to toilet paper, shelter, food, fuel etc, you have to bring or have arrainged for. Otherwise you will just add to the chaos. Almost nothing is available and what little there is, is needed by the people.

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 1, 2010 8:35 AM    Report this comment

As a retired ER Doc and Commercial pilot I just returned from Haiti after a grueling several days. I agree that in country aviation services are needed. I would contact Missionary Flights Intl regarding US to Haiti trips and Missionary Aviation Fellowship to assist in Haiti. MFI took groups of docs and emergency workers in on two Saab turboprops supplied by Hendrick Racing (the nascar guys) I came out on a Citation also furnished by a us company for MFI's use. Both of those groups have the connections to be useful in the effort. Most planes are filing to Cap Haitien, cancelling IFR and going into Port Au Prince as a VFR arrival. As I left, 100LL was in short supply in PAP.

Posted by: martin dixon | February 1, 2010 8:45 AM    Report this comment

I just returned from a week of hauling freight out of Santiago, DR. Here is the reality of the situation RE GA:
1: If you only have one engine, and it's not a turbine don't go - send cash. There is a lot of open water between the USA and DR or Haiti.
2: Thebmountains between the DR and Haiti are 10,000+ from sea level. The MEA is 14,000 less than 35 miles from Santiago. The mountains make their own weather. Aircraft are required to report at specific crossing points when going from DR to Haiti and back. Wandering around on a random VFR course without a flight plan is not allowed between the DR and Haiti.

3: Make a connection with an existing organization that has feet on the ground in country. Suggestions-Agape Flights-Venice FL, Go Missions, MAF-Ft Pierce, FL, MFI. DO NOT BE A SHOW UP AND WALK AROUND THAT JUST SOAKS UP RTESOURCES!!

4. From my experience I would say a Turbo-Aztec or equivalent is the minimun airplane. 400 Cessnas, Navajos and such are even better.

5. Don'tgo to MTPP unless you have an assigned reason. Outlying towns need the help more. The people in Santiago have a good handle on what is needed and where it should go.

6. BRING CASH. Credit cards often do not work for gas in the Southern Bahamas, the DR or Haiti.

7. Talk of gangs, Taliban and such - BUSHWA! You do not need to leave the airport in Haiti. Land, unload, get out to make room for the next plane.

I am going back for Agape Flights next Monday.

Jim Hiatt

Posted by: James Hiatt | February 1, 2010 11:10 AM    Report this comment

yes I agree that the security situation in some places may be questionable, but we worked in the poorest slum (city soleil) as well as in the better neighborhood (quisqueya). We slept on the ground outside due to the continuing aftershocks. NO one I was with ever felt that there was a security threat. Just as one would not walk down a dark alley in a US city, common sense should prevail. M Dixon MD

Posted by: martin dixon | February 1, 2010 11:15 AM    Report this comment

I am writing this from Santiago, DR and I am down here with a good friend in his Baron. We hooked up with Bahamas Habitat, flew to Ft. Lauderdale Exec and started flying stuff down immediately. There are numerous groups (go ministries, Bahamas Habitat, etc) that are coordinating relief efforts. GA has been huge here. There are numerous pilots, here as volunteers, that are making a difference. We have flow to Jacmel, Haiti and Jeremie, Haiti. The runways are short but actually in pretty decent shape. There are Barons, 421s, 310s, 206s, 182s, Caravans, PC-12s, MU-2s, 172s, name it, it is here and helping. I agree that you need to connect with a group before coming but the need is still great and GA is still the best way to get some of this moving.
The larger question of how to fix Haiti still remains but there are people here with immediate and severe needs. Also, now that the wave of first responders has subsided, and Haiti is off the nightly news, there is an even greater need as the people have run out of much of the supplies brought in in the first wave.

Lindy Kirkland
President, The Air Care Alliance

Posted by: Lindy Kirkland | February 2, 2010 5:24 AM    Report this comment

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