Pilot from Capital Region Aids Haiti
January 28, 2010
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  • Albany man uses personal plane to help with relief efforts
    By CATHY WOODRUFF, Staff writer

    COLONIE — Albany attorney Dale Thuillez spent three days last week flying food, doctors and medical supplies to an earthquake-devastated and isolated area of Haiti.

    Thuillez, a trial lawyer and owner of a Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12, said he learned through an e-mail that pilots with planes like his were needed, and he was quickly able to fly south Tuesday to a staging area in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

    He and other volunteers were enlisted to fly to a remote and rugged airstrip at Jacmel, southwest of Port-au-Prince and separated from the main port city by a mountain range. He said his Pilatus was able to make the trip to Jacmel without refueling and was well-suited to the needs there.

    “It has a long range, carries a heavy load and can land on short, unpaved airstrips, and that is exactly what was needed in this case,” he said. The people of Jacmel “are trapped, absolutely trapped. No food, no water, no medical care,” he said.

    There are no air traffic controllers at Jacmel, and the pilots landing and taking off there had to coordinate their activities directly with each other by radio, he said.

    Thuillez said one of the most challenging parts of the work was flying through the airspace around Port-au-Prince, where relief organizations and military personnel were trying to get hundreds of flights in and out each day.

    “It was just chaotic,” he said. “The controllers seemed overwhelmed.”

    Thuillez, 61, made three eight-hour round trips between Fort Lauderdale and Jacmel — one each day — and didn’t spend much time on the ground.

    “Things were moving fast. There were many, many aircraft down there,” he said. “It’s land, unload, load up and get out.”

    What Thuillez did see reminded him of a war zone, with the constant sound of helicopters and plentiful soldiers carrying automatic weapons.

    Thuillez and his co-pilot, Kevin Purstell, were joined for the trip back to Albany by Francois Boursiquot, a native of Haiti and U.S. citizen who was headed back to Boston, where a brother lives.

    Boursiquot said he lost a 6-year-old stepdaughter and a cousin in the quake, which did not make him unusual. “Everybody lost someone,” he said.

    He was driving when the temblor began and initially thought he had a flat tire. When it was over, Boursiquot said, all of Jacmel was devastated.

    “Some buildings were flat, like hamburgers,” he said. “It is a disaster from side to side.”

    Date: 2010-01-24