Private jets, military transports, airliners take part in operations
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
After taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport Monday night, David Donovan guided his Challenger 604 jet toward Port-au-Prince.
Upon entering Haitian airspace, the plane full of University of Miami medical personnel ended up in a holding pattern at 24,000 feet, as 15 aircraft waited for a slot at the airport’s single runway.
“It gets kind of stressful because you know there is no fuel on the ground,” said Donovan, who has made three relief flights to Haiti for the Fort Lauderdale company Hop-A-Jet since last week’s earthquake. “So the pilots have to plead with the air controllers to go down first.”
From South Florida’s airports, corporate jets, military transports and commercial airliners bring food, medical supplies and emergency personnel to the stricken nation and return with Haitian-Americans coming home, many requiring medical treatment. The airport in the Haitian capital is swamped with traffic, and the Federal Aviation Administration has stepped in to manage the country’s airspace.
Florida has taken in the largest number of people, according to state and federal agencies. By Tuesday afternoon, rescue flights had brought 4,869 evacuees to Florida’s airports, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. “The vast majority of these are Haitian Americans who have established family and friends in the United States that they are going to,” said DCF spokesman Joe Follick. U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said 126 Haitian citizens have been evacuated to the United States, including orphans and people with medical emergencies.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where more than 20 flights have landed, planes arrive with as little as 10 minutes’ notice, often in the middle of the night, forcing ground personnel to scramble to make sure medical crews are on hand to meet them. The Florida Department of Children and Families has established a 24-hour operation at the airport to assist people with food, cash and help getting home.
“It’s a mix of large military aircraft, smaller general aviation and couple of chartered commercial airliners,” said Mike Nonnemacher, the airport’s operations director. “Late-night hours have become the norm.”
More than 415 rescue flights had been flown into Haiti through Monday, with 71 by the U.S. Air Force and the other 344 by federally sponsored and private humanitarian groups, according to the Department of Defense transportation command. Meanwhile, return flights have brought thousands of evacuees from Haiti into the United States.
At Homestead Air Reserve Base, about 10 flights a day have arrived from Haiti, bringing in a total of 2,329 people, the largest number of evacuees handled by any airport in the state. Second was Orlando Sanford International Airport, with 1,709 evacuees, followed by Miami with 247 and Fort Lauderdale with 116.
More than a dozen Haitian-Americans arrived late Tuesday afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale airport in an Air Force C-130 transport plane, some needing serious medical attention, said Flight Lt. Calvin Bailey, a member of the British Royal Air Force on an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force.
Two of the five patients brought in were juveniles, he said. One had a broken leg, while the other had lost the use of both arms and both legs.
Planes take off with doctors, nurses, medical supplies, food and other essentials. Spirit Airlines has sent three Airbus A319 airliners to Haiti from Fort Lauderdale, each carrying 20,000 pounds of water. American Airlines, which before the earthquake operated the most U.S. flights to Haiti, has sent airliners full of supplies from Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The airlift has not interfered with operations at South Florida’s airports, spokesman say. At Miami International Airport, for example, 67 flights have taken off or landed from Haiti since last week’s earthquake. But since the airport ordinarily handles about 1,100 flights a day, this has not been disrupted operations. “We’re not overburdened,” spokesman Marc Henderson said.
But the Port-au-Prince airport, which handled an average of three flights a day before the earthquake, is struggling to accommodate 170 arrivals and departures, said Capt. Jon Stock, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command.
“You hear people say ‘Why can’t they get an aircraft in?’ No aircraft has been turned away that was following proper procedures” of arranging a landing in advance, Stock said. “Any random aircraft just flying there without communication until they get close is being rerouted to different areas to be return at a different time.”
Staff writers Rachel Hatzipanagos, Bob LaMendola, Rafael Olmeda, William E. Gibson and Megan O’Matz contributed to this report.
Source: SUN SENTINEL