Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cowboys & Angels

In Haiti, general aviation pilots are making a measurable difference

Haiti’s capital city. It’s estimated that 210,000 people died. General aviation has been serving an important role in relief efforts by delivering supplies daily to outlying towns such as Les Cayes.
GA pilots help deliver much-needed supplies to Haiti.
The Mission
Since the earthquake, many have fled the desperate conditions in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest city, where damage was at its worst. They’ve poured into smaller villages, but these outlying areas are unable to support the incoming throngs. The remote towns lack enough food and medicine, and the overrun orphanages and clinics lack even basic supplies. The people rely heavily on GA airplanes.

Each morning, pilots are briefed and airplanes are loaded for the long flight to Haiti. The donated supplies originate from a warehouse provided by Banyan Air Service in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Some airplanes also carry doctors or nurses. At loading time, everyone helps: millionaires, doctors, retirees and college students. There’s a sense of camaraderie that I can’t shake. I imagine this is why pilots who have flown in wars are so emotionally connected to their fellow crew members. These pilots all have looked into the hungry eyes of Haitian children. It’s need that binds everyone together.

Gerry Frumusa has been flying relief for three weeks with his Piper Lance. His airplane is something of a celebrity because it can carry him, 600 pounds of fuel and 700 pounds of anything that fits, and can land on unimproved strips. When his alternator gave out midstay, Banyan shipped him a replacement the next day. A U.S. Embassy aircraft mechanic gave up his lunch breaks to help put the alternator in. “This whole thing is about people,” says Frumusa. “One of these pilots could be wealthy, another one powerful, but everyone helps equally.”

Then there’s Charlie Zaloom, who came from Mattituck, N.Y., to volunteer his Cessna 180. Both he and Frumusa have been flying to less-secure airports, such as La Gonave. Between the two of them, they’ve flown some 15,000 pounds of supplies, much of it food. Both share stories of bringing rice, beans and cooking oil to people on the ground whom they’ve gotten to know personally. “This is currency,” said Zaloom, holding a small bag of rice, “and sometimes you give someone a bag or two for helping you.”

While people back home may be losing interest in something that’s happening in a faraway place, GA pilots still are providing hope in many areas of Haiti. “For many Haitians, small airplanes are it,” explains McIntyre. I hear stories of amputations being performed with only aspirin, and I’m shown photos of people with broken legs that had to be set using rebar from crumbled buildings. Pilots talk about orphanages and hospitals where children moan in pain through the night, without medication for limbs that have been amputated with hacksaws.

But GA has come to the rescue in a huge way. A Pilatus delivered an anesthesia machine that was donated by a medical group. Cessnas and Pipers carried hundreds of nested buckets with dialysis filters—originally designed to filter blood and urine—to remove contaminants from the muddy water many people drink, out of desperation. GA is bringing boxes of antibiotics to cut down on infections, and crutches for the thousands of new amputees. Volunteer pilots also are bringing in medical teams and surgical instruments.


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