Wednesday, March 3

Adventures on a helicopter

Up at 5.30am this morning to get ready for the lorry arriving.  The last lorry for the tarpaulins had arrived – unfortunately the waxed boxes had not survived so well with the recent rains as we have still been unable to find warehousing locally in Port Au Prince.  It was a bit of a heavy, soggy job to get everything in the truck.  However, this was done and I and two others set off for the logs base and the helipad. 

There was of course the usual waiting around, first for the wfp truck with additional sheeting, then for the UN heli (a Russian Mil 17 from about 30 years ago).  Since the payload was under 2 tonnes we were all 3 able to go on the trip.  The wait in the sun dragged on and as the wind got up I was increasingly nervous that we wouldn’t be able to make our two drops.  Finally we made it to the heli, loaded on the first set of boxes and set off.  It was great to be able to see so much of Port Au Prince as we flew out along the coast line, the closely clustered tent cities, the blue tarps sticking out above the grey of the cement and breeze blocks and the density of the city really unfolded beneath us. 

Once we moved in from the coast the hills rose up and the buildings and cement fell away.  Looking out over Haiti it is really a beautiful country, but deforestation has really taken its toll.  I do hope that as the programme progresses Tearfund is able to really help with the agriculture in the rural areas and it will look more green.  We were doing the drops by heli because there just are no roads that a vehicle can take up into the hills.  They are very isolated and the facilities of the UN are a major advantage.  It just means some forms and negotiations and some patience!  The pilot called me up to talk to him as we circled near to the given coordinates – had I been here before – sadly no!  But after a minute I did see a puff of smoke and pointed it out – as we approached the bonfire there were a group of Haitians gesticulating to the next ridge where an H was marked.  The ridge was very narrow and unfortunately the buffeting wind meant we could land along the length of the ridge but had to balance across the ridge.  It was a very tight fit and the selected community unloaders had to climb up to us to get the boxes!  It was so tight that the rise of the land meant we couldn’t fully open the doors at the back so some had to come out the side door.  There was a very funny moment for me when the pilot saw me lifting boxes out the side door.  ‘Don’t lift them Lindsey let the local people do it – you need to save the world!’

After the first successful drop we went back to the logs base and loaded up again (WFP driver had disappeared so he was dragged out from his rest!) Off again with my Russian pilot and his other two staff – one whose job was to hang out the side of the heli and see if we could land.  I was called to talk to the pilot again.  I recognised the hillside as we went up this time (there was a white cliff over to the left where the side of the mountain had fallen in the earthquake) and knew we had to climb another 250m.  We saw the smoke, but the site marked was only about 16m in length before some make shift shelter – there was no way we could land, the material would have been blown into the blades.  We circled several times and finally landed at the site the heli had landed on Saturday on the next ridge.  After negotiating with the local committee they helped us unload.  The people waiting on the ridge for us had to run down and up again to meet us.  We saw them arriving just as we were lifting off!

It was a great experience and help so desperately needed for really remote communities.


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