UPDATE: At the bottom of this post are pictures from the Navy helicopter pilot I received yesterday. Please click the picture for a much larger and clearer image.
As I occasionally have to point out to younger school groups, earthquakes don’t fall under the realm of meteorology. Rather, they fall under geology and, more specifically, seismology. Meteorologists generally deal with Earth’s activity from the ground up. So, the recent earthquake in Haiti is not necessarily on topic with respect to this blog. However, there’s no reason we can’t stray off topic every once in a while.
By now you’ve become inundated with news and images from the devastation in Haiti. You probably heard that another aftershock rumbled through Port-au-Prince this morning. I watched about 5 minutes of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN last night as he discussed the lack of supplies and medical care available to the victims – something that’s seemingly becoming a theme in news coverage these days. This morning, I came across a forum post from a Navy helicopter pilot stationed off the coast of Haiti. The discussion forum covers the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise and serves as a place for Browns fans around the world to come together and discuss their favorite NFL team. In addition to discussing football, the forum also engages in discussing other interesting and poignant news items such as the earthquake in Haiti. On occasion, the vast network of forum members allows for first-hand accounts of these unique stories.
Last night, a poster by the name of “FlyNavydawg” – the “dawg” referring to the Dawg Pound end zone fan section synonymous with Cleveland Browns football for the last 25 years – posted to let those visiting the board know that things are getting done in Haiti. The following account is taken from this thread on the board and can be considered heavily [sic’d]. I imagine military personnel don’t have much time to surf the Internet, so please excuse the hastily written nature of the first-hand report.
Hey gents. Greeting from USS Vinson floating just off Haiti.
The internet is usually down but for some reason tonight I was able to log on. Its frustrating watching CNN as when its up as they make it sound like nothings getting done here. Below is a letter I wrote my fam from a few days ago (Saturday during the playoffs I think). I share it with you so you know that things ARE getting done.
For those that don’t know I’m a Navy Helo pilot and have been for 10 years. Its funny I get as wrapped up in the Browns as all of you. In the grand scheme though… well lets just we have it good. Even for Cleveland sports fans. Anyway here is a day in the life out here:
0415 woke up
0450 Brief for my flight section of 2 HH-60’s scheduled for 5 hour flight line from the boat to Haiti.
0515 drank obscene large / strong cup of coffee
0530 rolled through the intell portion of the ship where all the targeters, and Intel is for latest’s on LZ status (where crowds, ground security forces are)
0545 Read the aircraft discrepancy book (its basically a history of all the recent maintenance for the specific Aircraft we fly)and crunched my power available numbers for max cargo in the given heat and humidity.
0600 walked to the flight deck with my crew as the sun came up.
0650 launched as a flight of 2 on time inbound to port au prince airport for tasking with 2 photogs (news media types)
0720 first hit on deck. We land in the grass next to the runway so it can stay open. The 82nd airborne as well as tons of media are always there. Started to load up with water and food when additional tasking came in. My playmate had an urgent med evac from the US embassy while we had tasking to fly 3 medical persons from the airport to re-con possible field medical Landing zones. Based on this we split the flight and proceed on single ship.
0755 recon complete (you can fly then entire stretch of Port au Prince in about 5-10 mins. Its not very big) landed back at the airport and dropped of our pax.
0800 loaded up again with about 1000 pounds of water and a camera crew from Spain, and a camera guy from DC. Honestly we tend to have media on almost every single sortie we do. We flew to a dirt lz near the water where within seconds of our landing we were swarmed by about 100 people. They have no fear or the rotor blades and just want the water and food. It is heartbreaking to watch. Other then minor wrestling for who gets how many bottles they are considerably tame. No punching or anything like that.
0830 ran back to the airport and loaded up again.
0840 on final for the same LZ we could see the word had gotten out. Over ICS (intercom system) I rather firmly ordered my door gunner to get the load off as fast as possible and be prepared for an early and sudden departure if we felt unsafe. As soon as our tail wheel hit the ground we were totally surrounded. Even the camera crew started helping throw cases of water out the door. My scan was outside the door with people face to face with me. You could see the pain and desperation in their eyes. I started pumping the collective (which is what makes the helo go up) in order to try and create more rotor wash to try and get them back but it had no effect. What seemed like minutes but was only about 20 seconds I called “liffting” and got light on the struts. When they realized we were going airborne they all dove to the deck and got flat.(thankfully). You can’t see your tail rotor from the front and I was very concerned that someone was going to get pushed into it. After getting up and away I called into control and recommended that they close the LZ. Once you use a spot more then once the word gets out.
0900 back on deck at the airport I was tasked with flying a DV (distinguished visitor) to the boat. This was good timing as I was scheduled for a deck hit anyway to get more gas. We do they give me? Geraldo Riviera. I couldn’t help from giggling a bit. He came strutting out to the load zone in his pink sunglasses, black T, power mustache, microphone in hand with 1 camera guy. He came up to my door and saluted me, and then hopped in the back. My crewman of course started taking pictures with him. Classic. Fox news here I come. Anyway we lifted off and headed back to the boat. I did a flew laps over head so he could get some footage.
0930 Safe on deck mom and hooked up to the grapes (what we call the fuel guys since they all wear purple shirts) for more gas.
0945 Back airborne and headed back to the beach.
0955 on deck at the airport and loaded up with more food and water and some security that needed a ride to another LZ
1015 safe on deck at the next LZ. Picked up some more media and took them back to the airport
1025 Joined up with my skippers bird and flew as a flight of 2 to try and find a location that had been reported to need aid. There were no suitable LZ’s in the area so we were unable to land. Hundreds of people in the streets, buildings collapsed / pan caked like accordions all the way to the ground. We noticed a very large fire that had broken out near the Cathedral which was totally destroyed. Not sure if you knew but Haiti is 96 % Christian and 80% catholic. Reported that to our betters and headed back to the airport.
1100 picked up a 4 man Britt assessment team to recon some damage areas. Gave them a lap around town and then took them back to the airport.
1130 took our last run of persons needing a ride back to the boat.
1155 safe on deck at the boat and landed exhausted and soaked with sweat to get more gas and hand the bird over spinning to the next crew.
5.0 hours in 90 plus weather [Author’s note: See? Weather!] with no AC in our bird. As I stepped out of the bird I felt a bit dizzy and despite drinking 8-10 bottles of water throughout the flight had rather dark colored piss when I finally got to relieve myself. Grabbed a quick bite from the wardroom and then debriefed for about an hour in CIVIC where we give a very very detailed recap of everything we did. There was more stuff we did that I left out as its not cool for me pass it to you.
1300 finally all done and of course the ships tv had no single so no football games… Bummer. Took a shower and went to bed for 3 hours.. That’s a typical day here. Non stop. Eat sleep fly. I haven’t worked out once yet, but I’ve lost weight.. All water I’m sure you can see why. Love all of you and am very thankful for the support. The Navy is executing our mission statement. “Global force for good”. The camaraderie and moral is very high. Its very rewarding to see the direct result of all the years of training in a 5 year olds eyes (like the one med evac’d the other day) as you get her out of hell and know that you did your job.
It all starts again in the A.M.
Well, I think we can all take something away from this account. Like the fact that Geraldo Rivera wears pink sunglasses.
UPDATE: Here are pictures from the pilot who provided the timeline above.