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Pilot sees new general aviation role in Haiti relief
January 12, 2011
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  • By Dan Namowitz

    January 6, 2011

    Any general aviation pilot who has wanted to take action to help ease the suffering in earthquake-stricken Haiti but doesn’t know how might want to talk to Carl Works.

    Works, an AOPA member from Pompano Beach, Fla., is the founder of Walk in the Light Ministries International, and Walking with Hope Charities International. Active in Haiti before last year’s earthquake, his organizations’ projects now support three orphanages, two schools, and a medical clinic in the devastated Caribbean nation.

    When the earthquake struck, “I watched the help come in with the TV cameras, and then leave just as fast,” he said in a recent e-mail message to AOPA urging pilots to get involved in continuing relief work. On Jan. 13, 2010, AOPA reported on relief efforts that had begun soon after the earthquake, when estimates of the toll were only beginning to emerge. Flights continued well into March as pilots flying everything from piston singles to turboprop cabin aircraft flew aid and rescue missions to Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, and then on to interior destinations. (See the March 2010 AOPA Pilot feature “Flying into Haiti: The best of general aviation in the worst of times.”

    While the world’s attention has turned to other matters, conditions for the average Haitian have worsened, Works said. Infrastructure remains devastated. A pervasive fear of cholera, and political instability connected to the incomplete presidential election process that began with voting on Nov. 28, have combined to bring many Haitians to the brink of despair.

    The problem now isn’t marshalling food, medicine, and supplies from sources in the United States. The difficulty is getting it where it’s needed in Haiti, and getting Haitians to the care they need. That’s where Works believes that general aviation pilots could come in. Pilots volunteering to transport workers, children in medical need, and equipment could “do some great things to save the country.”

    With Port-au-Prince now “a nightmare” and reconstruction virtually paralyzed, Works sees a pressing need for organizers to “think outside the city.” He suggests that several outlying airports could serve as ports of entry for inbound pilot-volunteers. That was possible during the first few weeks after the earthquake, but when normal international flight procedures were resumed in March, general aviation relief flights wound down, despite a continuing need, as AOPA reported on March 11, 2010.

    Works is trying to work out Customs arrangements with officials. Back in Port-au-Prince some relief items have sat for a month or more without being cleared. The problem is twofold: the backlog, and the corruption.

    Works says he is “talking to anybody and everybody within reason” to find a better way.

    With donated items of food and clothing flowing in as a result of media reports of the projects, he is searching for hangar space in Haiti where a base of operations could be established, and in Pompano Beach or at Fort Lauderdale Executive airports in Florida.

    “My greatest fear is that a child we are caring for will need medical help and die because we can’t get them out to help,” he said. “I have seen people die standing in line waiting for assistance.”

    With needed help only 90 minutes away by aircraft, Works vows that not a single one of the children, now numbering about 700, in the orphanages’ care will be lost. Obstacles are daunting under current conditions; it takes about an hour and a half in an emergency to transport a child from one of the orphanages, located in the mountains, to Port-au-Prince, where treatment remains “hit or miss.” What makes the adverse logistics so tragic is that most patients are “completely savable” if they get help in time.

    With conditions in the country “getting worse by the minute,” Works worries about “more of a feeling of impending violence than there has been in a long time” in Haiti. And with water supplies for many people “sporadic”Ñand water a primary conduit for cholera outbreaksÑthere’s now “a paranoia that will lead to hysteria about cholera.”

    “If anything happens the country will shut down completely,” he says. “The U.S. will have to step in, without a doubt.”

    Works, whose operations have expanded to the care of some Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic, urges any general aviation pilot who wants to participate in relief operations to take a commercial flight with him to Haiti. The offer includes going over charts and discussing the ins and outs of flying within the country. Interested pilots can contact him by e-mail.

    “Come see what you’d be flying into,” he says.

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