Eclectic fleet powers Samaritan’s Purse in Haiti

 - February 18, 2010, 5:54 AM

International relief organization Samaritan’s Purse is using an eclectic fleet of its own, borrowed and chartered aircraft to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti. The day after the January 12 earthquake there, the organization landed emergency assessment and medical teams in Port-au-Prince aboard a turbine DC-3 operated by Missionary Flights International out of Palm Beach. It used chartered DC-6s and L-100s (civil Hercules) to bring in 12 water purification machines, each capable of producing 10,000 gallons of clean water a day. It borrowed a Hughes 500 based in Dallas to sling food and insert medical personnel into remote orphanages and mission hospitals blocked from re-supply by boulder- strewn and impassable roads.

Those efforts were assisted by the charity’s own Quest Kodiak turboprop single. A chartered 19-seat Jetstream 32 from Corporate Flight Management in Smyrna, Tenn., was brought to shuttle medical teams from Fort Lauderdale to Port-au-Prince (MTPP) almost daily.

“When there is a crisis, you’ve got to go,” said Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham. “If you sit back home to map out your complete plan before you get moving, you may never get moving.” A pilot for more than three decades, Graham knows the value of aircraft in disaster response, and his organization operates a combined fleet of 13 aircraft in support of its relief and development efforts worldwide.

On January 14, Graham’s own attempt to take another team into Haiti aboard the organization’s Falcon 50 was thwarted in the initial aluminum crush that ensued immediately after the U.S. Air Force took over ATC for MTPP. He was diverted to Great Exuma along with many other aircraft.

The following day, the Samaritan’s Purse airlift resumed, transporting personnel, pallets of medical supplies, vehicles, and thousands of blankets, rolled plastics for shelter, hygiene kits, water purification kits and sachets, jerry cans and flashlights. It is also distributing 45 tons of food a day for the U.N. Food Program, with security courtesy of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne.

Graham said that Samaritan’s Purse was devoting considerable energy to bringing relief to areas of the countryside where the devastation was even worse than in Port-au-Prince. He said the helicopter and the Kodiak have been particularly useful in this mission. “If we didn’t have the helicopter, we’d be in trouble,” he said. “And with the Kodiak, we can make a few [airstrips],” because the airplane can take off or land safely in less than 1,000 feet.

In the days after the quake, Samaritan’s Purse raised $25 million and spent almost $7 million of that immediately. The organization is also bringing in heavy trucks and construction equipment from Florida on sea barges.

Graham said that fuel at MTPP was “still an issue,” so Samaritan’s Purse is taking its aircraft to the Dominican Republic for refueling. He described the scene at MTPP as “pretty hectic” and called airport customs “chaotic.”

“We just had to start showing our passports [February 3],” Graham said. “Until then, our people could go right out on the ramp, unload an airplane, throw the cargo in the back of our pickup trucks and go. But that all stopped and it’s getting bureaucratic again.”