Saturday, March 20, 2010

Port-au-Prince (After The Quake)

A trip I flew to Haiti, "Third World Operations", was worthy of a post way back in early December.

That was the last time I had been back to Haiti until just recently. My employer has resumed service back into Port-au-Prince and I had the opportunity to re-visit PAP on a recent trip.

My first officer that day was new to PAP so I would be the tour guide. Our preflight duties included a complete review of the temporary restrictions governing commercial aircraft operations in and out of Haiti. We were carrying a complete packet of the latest procedures, communications frequencies, arrival and departure profiles, parking instructions, and anything else relevant to the airport. We were departing Miami in a fully loaded 767.... 223 passengers and a crew of 13.

Shortly after the quake, the United States came in to provide air traffic control services as well as medical and humanitarian aid on a massive scale. The US has been slowly returning ATC control back to the Haitians and today we were in Haitian controllers hands. That would prove to be a detriment to our goal of operating a uneventful flight!

We launched from MIA behind an arriving World Airways MD-11 and climbed eastbound across the Bahamas chain.

It was business as usual until we had to switch over to Port-au-Prince tower.

Descending in, we were cleared for an ILS to runway 10 with a circle to land on runway 28. But we were only given a clearance to descend to 5000 ft and to report inbound on the ILS. OK fine...So we continued on in and reported inbound but the controller was apparently too busy or distracted to hear us. We kept calling until he finally answered us and asked where we were? "We're overhead the field at 5000 ft" was our answer! He seemed surprised and promptly cleared us back to the initial approach fix and gave us instructions to hold and await further clearance.

20 minutes later he cleared us for the same approach and for us to call the field in sight and to enter a downwind for runway 28. So we did all that and set up for the landing. Meanwhile he cleared a Canadian Air Force C-17 to back-taxi for takeoff on runway 28. As we turned final, the tower amended the C-17's enroute clearance which resulted in them not being ready for takeoff. With us now on short final and the C-17 still on the runway, we had to execute a go-around and get back in the pattern.

So now we're back on final and the tower has cleared the C-17 for takeoff. It all was looking good until the C-17 aborted their takeoff with some sort of mechanical issue. We had no choice....another go-around!! We broke off to the right and started a climb. Just then we received a traffic alert on our TCAS with instructions to "CLIMB, CLIMB". I looked out and saw a Cessna Caravan doing a steep turn to avoid us as we were climbing and turning in the other direction. That was close!
We asked the tower for instructions and all he could tell us was "go hold east of the airport somewhere". He was completely flustered and not in control of his airspace. Now a clearance like that in the real world is just unheard of! We were clearly on our own this day.

After several minutes of us circling low over the city, he told us to come on in and land. By then we had lost sight of the airport so we had to rely on some basic VFR skills and dead reckoning to re-acquire the airport.

The third time was a charm and we actually made a landing.

Taxiing in we could see the massive amounts of relief supplies and equipment all over the airport. It must have been a huge undertaking getting all these supplies in right after the quake.
They even brought in a temporary control tower since the PAP tower was destroyed.
Sorry that it's blurry.
On the bright side, we were able to use a jet bridge and keep our passengers off of the ramp area like in the past.

After the First Officer and I finished the parking checklist we just looked at each other in disbelief and breathed a sigh of relief. That was a flight to remember!

So off with 223 passengers and on with 223 more heading back to Miami.

The takeoff and climb went smoothly. Climbing out over the bay we could see several US Navy ships anchored. Two of them were Landing Helicopter Assault ships that were helping with the relief effort.It will most likely be years before Haiti gets back on it's feet after such a disaster. But the recovery goes on and life is very slowly returning to Port-au-Prince.
Two hours later we were on final to runway 30 at Miami.

Once again it was nice to be back in US airspace.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.


Chrissy said...

Wow, I can not imagine what you and your crew were feeling as u took that journey... I too believe it will be years before Haiti will get back to some sort of normalcy.. I do hope constant medical supplies, drugs, doctors, food and facilities are erected and that the aid continues and doesn't just fade away ... It seems as the furor of Haiti's tragedy has slowly ebbed away...

Ryan said...

Unbelievable that you had to go around twice that day! Your story really paints a picture of how dire it is in Haiti right now. Thanks for sharing.


Mark Lawrence said...

Thanks for sharing Len! Must have been quite a trip. I'm sure the guy in the Caravan got as much of a shock!

Barbara said...

Hello Captain Len,
OMG... that is one heck of a day.
I don't understand a lot about aeronautics, but I don't have to be a genius to see that it was
very tough going.

Well done for the mission.Thanks for a pilot's experience to get out of tough spots !!

D-ka said...

I can't imagine such go-arounds... but the frustrated tower is even worse. I think it was luck that the airspace is not crowded at all that day.

A very nice story and indeed, it's a flight to remember! :)

The AirplaneNut said...

Nice dad was in in Haiti a few weeks ago as a relief doctor. He stayed in one of those tents by the airport

Len (Barfbag) said...

Airplane Nut,
Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Your Dad must be a good guy!! Anyone involved in the relief effort has my admiration.


Flygirl said...

Wow, what a story! I can't imagine how frustrating that must have been for you guys!

The airline I work for was operating sun destination trips into the Dominican during the time that the quake occurred. I remember picking up people from their vacations and feeling disgusted. All they could do was bitch about how the power went out and how their vacation was ruined, and now we were late landing and departing again because the airspace was full of relief effort.

One woman was irate that we were late, and I ended up losing my rag with her (I'm a terrible flight attendant) "people are dying, get some perspective".

Anyways, loving your blog, and can't wait to read more!