Hawaii Coast Guard crews fly quake relief missions in Haiti
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
A pilot with a Coast Guard C-130 airplane out of Hawai'i who flew into Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday said the airport was like "the wild, wild west."
Two Hawai'i crews of two pilots and five crew members each are operating out of Clearwater, Fla., with the single Barbers Point C-130 after leaving Friday and flying 15 hours.
Lt. Andrew Paszkiewicz, 27, was part of a crew that flew vaccine and about 20 emergency workers from Miami to Port-au-Prince on Sunday and evacuated 67 Haitian-Americans, including several infants and toddlers.
"It's kind of like the wild, wild west," Paszkiewicz said by cell phone of the airport at Port-au-Prince. "There are a lot of planes stacked up there, trying to get in. It was pretty much a beehive of activity."
The Coast Guard search and transport plane is among the limited Hawai'i-based military assets sent to Haiti because it is so far from the Islands.
A dangerous aviation free-for-all at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince immediately after the earthquake has been replaced by a modicum of organization, The Wall Street Journal reported.
A small team of U.S. Air Force special operations members was trying to control the remaining chaos from a folding table set up alongside the runway, the newspaper said.
Haitian air traffic controllers, assisted by Americans and Canadians, contact planes 30 to 40 miles out, and the U.S. Air Force takes over when it's time to guide aircraft onto the single runway.
"It's very difficult," Paszkiewicz said. "All the radio frequencies were jammed with people trying to get in. The Air Force, I would say, did a pretty good job as far as managing the takeoffs and arrivals and the planes on the ground."
The second Barbers Point crew was on its way back to Port-au-Prince in the propeller-driven C-130 at about 2 p.m. yesterday.
Paszkiewicz said the Haitian-Americans evacuated on Sunday did not look too distressed physically.
"But we spoke to a handful of them, and they are very mentally distraught from what was going on on the ground," the pilot from Waynesboro, Pa., said. "Just seeing a lot of their loved ones and friends pass, it's pretty troubling for them. (They had) almost a shocked look. I'm not sure how much time they spent on the ground before they could get evacuated."
The evacuees needed water and bathroom facilities, and a rest stop was made at Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Base on Cuba before heading to Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, Paszkiewicz said.
The biggest problem is the profusion of aid aircraft trying to get a time slot to land in Haiti, he said.
"We're prepared to stay here for as long as the mission takes. Everything is hour-by-hour here," Paszkiewicz said yesterday afternoon. "Our (other) crew is on the road — they are going to be flying through the night to deliver more relief aid and evacuate people to the Dominican Republic."
DAY AND NIGHT WORK
The Coast Guard in Miami yesterday said crews continued to work around the clock to provide assistance to Haitian survivors.
"The complexities crews face with this massive relief operation are immense due to the magnitude of damage to Haiti's infrastructure," the Coast Guard said.
The C-130 from Barbers Point is among three of the cargo planes providing aid to Haiti.
The other two C-130s are from Elizabeth City, N.C., and Sacramento, Calif.
Two other Coast Guard airplanes, two helicopters and five cutters also have responded to the disaster.
The Coast Guard yesterday said it had removed 29 critically injured U.S. Embassy personnel from the country and evacuated an estimated 662 American citizens.
It had also delivered 512 "Urban Search and Rescue Team" members to Port-au-Prince.
Paszkiewicz said he didn't get too much of a look at the devastation in Haiti "because like I said, it was a bit hairy getting in there (because of) the lack of air traffic control," and his attention was focused on flying.
But he did say he saw flattened buildings and fires.
The crew kept the C-130's engines running while on the ground and were able to offload the emergency personnel and supplies, load the evacuees and get back into the air in about 25 minutes, Paszkiewicz said.
It's been a busy few months for the four Coast Guard C-130s in Hawai'i. In September and October, nonstop relief flights were conducted to American Sāmoa after a tsunami hit.
"We're just glad we can get over there (to Haiti) and help out," Paszkiewicz said.