COPA (Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association) loaded several hundred pounds of medical supplies at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport that are destined for St. Luke Family Hospital in Port au Prince.
Among the supplies loaded Sunday aboard a squadron of small planes taking part in the airlift were the types of goods usually dispatched to Haiti: medicine, hospital equipment and clothing.
But also bound for the Caribbean nation, mired in poverty and still reeling from a devastating earthquake more than three years ago, were treadle sewing machines, musical instruments and school supplies.
“This is part of what makes this mission unique,” Kirby Williams, pastor of New Hope Community Church in Fort Lauderdale, said as boxes were wedged in behind the planes’ seats at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.”People are always happy to receive medical supplies. But when someone gets a guitar or a trombone that may have been sitting unused in a garage somewhere, it’s elation. Gifts like that are gold.”
The airlift to Haiti was scheduled to take off just after dawn Monday via a delivery system that is also unusual. All but one of the 17 planes in the airlift were single-engine Cirrus aircraft piloted by members of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association. The other plane is a jet.
On behalf of the church’s mission called Wings of Hope, the pilots group agreed to ferry supplies destined for the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Pignon, Haiti, which operates local orphanages, schools and clinics.The pilots and Wings of Hope were brought together with the help of Sueanne Campion at Banyan Air Service, which provided discount fuel, free hangar storage and ramp services, according to Sherry Shoemaker, a Wings representative.
Most of the owner-pilots are from outside Florida, and many have never been to Haiti before.
“I am hoping to have an emotional experience,” said Luke Lysen, 35, who runs a Seattle flying school. He is traveling with his brother-in-law Ryan Tuininga, 40. “We wanted to help, and this seemed like a good way to do it.”
The mission is being led by Richard McGlaughlin, 60, a gastroenterologist from Birmingham, Ala.
For years McGlaughlin has volunteered at St. Luke Family Hospital in Port-au-Prince and has piloted his Cirrus aircraft to the Haitian capital dozens of times in recent years.
One of his most recent trips was almost his last. In January 2012 McGlaughlin and his daughter Elaine, then 25, were two miles west of Andros Island in the Bahamas when the plane’s oil pressure dropped.
So did the plane.
But, McGlaughlin and his daughter survived an unscheduled water landing by deploying what is standard equipment on the Cirrus: a parachute with a 65-foot diameter canopy that unfurls to control the aircraft’s descent.
“We didn’t have a scratch,” said McGlaughlin, who, along with his daughter, was rescued from a life raft by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew a little more than an hour after they went down.
McGlaughlin said he continues to fly to Haiti monthly because “if you are a doctor, there is no better thing than to take care of people. The work is inspiring, I like the people I work with, and I think we do a lot of good. Flying there adds adventure to it.”
Yet, McGlaughlin adds, he is not looking for more mid-air adventure.
“Boring flights, that’s what I want now,” he said. “I’ve had all the excitement I need.”
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