3rd anniversary of Haiti Airlift

Saturday, Jan. 12, is the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which sparked one of general aviation’s largest emergency relief efforts in history. To commemorate the anniversary, we received the following from Richard Sante of the Airlift Flyers Aviation:

“General aviation woke up on a cool winter morning in January 2010 to an unprecedented challenge — the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. Like never before or ever since, GA spontaneously morphed into an international task force in response to the horror of the disaster that befell the tiny poorest nation of our hemisphere.

On short notice private pilots and aircraft operators representing every GA community from coast to coast put the horrific crisis at the top of their priority and scrambled to accomplish unprecedented feats of airborne philanthropy. This impromptu achievement that came to be known as the ‘2010 Haiti Airlift’, is an enduring testament to the can–do spirit of American GA on the global scale. They conquered the economic slump, insurance issues, inconveniences, high fuel prices and security concerns to make a real difference far beyond our shores.

Rough estimates say probably a half-million miles were donated to fly 500 tons of relief aid to Haiti by general aviation aircraft in early 2010. GA’s exact contribution to the relief effort was not formally compiled and may never be officially known, but one thing remains certain: Aircraft owners and operators in all types from ubiquitous Skyhawks to executive bizjets rose to the challenge in record numbers.

Working with the U.S. Operation Unified Response, GA’s spontaneous deployments were among the first responders. The life-saving conduct of general aviation heroes from 2010 until now remains a collective heritage to be proud of, a marvelous example to be celebrated in every new mission arranged by Airlift Flyers Aviation Corp. to this day.

At Port au Prince International (MTPP) the immediate consequence of the quake was the collapse of the ATC tower that rendered the airspace uncontrolled. Within the hour of arriving in Haiti, and only 28 hours after the quake, combat controllers from 23rd Special Tactics Squadron under SOUTHCOM hastily set up a makeshift ATC system improvised to enforce order upon chaos. Not a single accident was reported, though regrettably many aircraft were instructed to divert or just gave up circling around the pancake pattern as the log-jammed MTPP could not accommodate them.

In the initial days air operations resembled the 1948 Berlin Airlift (with an occasional DC-3 and DC-6 for realism). At its peak, the USAF controllers handled over 150 flights per day in and out of the single active. Runway 10/28 became the city’s only lifeline connecting it to any hope for help from the outside world.

But just outside the airport fence the landscape was an Armageddon. Tons of relief cargo couldn’t reach far beyond the piles of rubble. A logistical nightmare played out: impenetrable roads, collapsed bridges, seaports wiped out, gas stations inoperable or looted and desperately needed emergency supplies in limbo. That’s where agile GA aircraft made a huge impact in the early excruciating days of the turmoil.

Unlike large organizations using heavy planes, small GA planes were fulfilling tactical roles using open fields in the countryside beyond ground zero. STOL capable types strategically coordinated remote staging areas with NGOs and faith-based charities already laboring in Haiti. Each mission was uniquely moving and rewarding. Each flight was exceptionally audacious, each satisfied distinctive accomplishments that stirred the realization that miracles were unfolding amidst the mayhem

A valiant giant with a big heart and a small plane is Jonathan Nash Glynn. The prominent New York artist and owner of a 1964 C-172E dropped his artwork in progress as soon as heard of the calamity unfolding in Haiti. After fueling at Opa Locka he set off for Turks & Caicos and Haiti with merely a handheld GPS. Upon learning of amputations with wood shop tools and no anesthesia or antibiotics, Glynn committed his mighty 172 to airlifting surgical equipment and supplies in and out of gravel landing strips between mountain peaks. Glynn went on to establish a foundation — Wings Over Haiti, raising six-figure funds to open an elementary school for 43 kids in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Directing the ad-hoc air force from the states, Robin Eissler’s leadership was remarkable. With little more than a cell phone, she organized around 600 trips to the island, some of which carried hundreds of passengers and over half-million pounds of relief supplies. Robin was instrumental arranging flights lifting spur-of-the-moment surgical teams, IV bags, hydration fluids, baby formula and RTE meals, tirelessly shuttled to and within Haiti.

The image of injured children clinging to life flown in corporate jets to Florida hospitals with temporary visas defines the 2010 Haiti Airlift as GA’s epic moment. Her accomplishments illustrate the diverse tasks and extraordinary skills exerted by general aviation people determined to mitigate the staggering death toll and heart-wrenching agony.

Extraordinary pilots like Gene Schmidt, a Beech Baron pilot from Florida, prompted by Bahamas Habitat, flew sorties weekend after weekend with his piston twin into small airstrips of the ailing nation. He even enlisted his friend Jim Frasier to follow in his Bonanza. Gene was subsequently honored with the Public Benefit Pilot Of The Year award by the NAA. Though grateful to be individually recognized for the combined work of many, he said: “There’s no question that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who are alive today who would not be alive if it were not for all of the general aviation pilots…”

If not for small planes, medics and relief aid could not have reached outlying hamlets and villages hard hit and increasingly overwhelmed with hordes of stunned, displaced and injured refugees fleeing the capital city. Hundreds of sorties were flown into Haiti from Florida and the DR, airlifting personnel and supplies to otherwise unreachable areas. Caravans, PC-12s and twin turboprops swooped like angels in and out of dusty gravel airstrips and rural roads flanked by banana trees and coconut groves. They were airborne heroes in business or private planes practicing a type of “aeroism” for which GA is seldom lauded but rightfully deserves our highest respect.

Theirs is the cherished legacy on which Airlift Flyers Aviation is founded. Our small planet is all the better thanks to the unassuming boldness of gracious pilots who bring airborne hope to the suffering masses and steward future generations of airlift flyers with inspiration. We continue advocating aviation for a higher purpose, strongly committed as ever to flying for goodness sake. By arranging mission flights we put wings on charities serving the poorest of the poor throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. ALFA volunteers are passionate about flying humanitarian cargo, knowing a single deployment impacts thousands of lives.

We are particularly proud to honor the many on the ground and in the air doing their deeds quietly under the radar screen without applause or acclaim, knowing the worth of their contribution is too valuable to be commended and too priceless for a paycheck.

For more information: Airlift Flyers Aviation


  1. says

    Many of the pilots and people that I met during that airlift have fallen in love with the people of Haiti and continue to fly support missions still. If anyone is interested in flying missions to Haiti please contact bahamashabitat.org. Haiti is a beautiful place full of incredible people.

  2. Mark Johnson says

    I was one who flew a few flights to Haiti after the earthquake. Thank you for kind words and thanks. This article speaks to my heart and I was thrilled to be apart of the relief effort.

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