One Lesson I learned Flying In Haiti

Posted by Gienne Quilotte | 8/23/22 9:21 AM

 

One Pilot Lesson I learned In Haiti

I’ll be honest - I never stress when I fly. If people have to wait for me because I need to do my safety checks, I’ll let them wait. However, in all the flying I have done there was one flight where I wished I had planned things differently; one day that almost got to me. This is the story of one of my Haiti trips, and how I got to Miami just in time for one of the most important days in my flying career.

It was a warm day in Port-Au-Prince. The sun was shining bright, the sound of honking cars echoed through my room. My fan was making that same creaking sound it always does which irritated me a bit. But I’d rather have a fan than no fresh air in my room. Slightly irritated and sweaty I was packing my bags in the hotel to head back to Miami late that afternoon. I felt like going home and taking a shower since I wasn’t able to get a proper shower in Haiti because the water just dribbled a little bit from the shower head. I kept telling myself “It’s all part of the experience.” 

 

Tomorrow would be an important day. It was the luncheon for The Greater Miami Aviation Association (GMAA) and I was a proud recipient of a Falcon-20 type rating. I would join an elite group of Wayman Aviation students who earned scholarships in the past. It’s the best news I’ve heard since before the pandemic and it filled me, and my family, with pride.

 

It’s a strange feeling being able to fly in a third-world country like Haiti. Landing in some shanty old towns where kids are able to run up to the airplane - because it’s just a dirt strip in the middle of nowhere - and they can ask tons of questions. Looking into their eyes I saw the same awe I still get when I see an airplane. Looking deeper there was a lot of sadness and pain though. It’s bizarre what the people of Haiti are going through. Some even go as far as to say the country is cursed. Ever since the earthquake hit, things have gone quite mad. So many families lost relatives and friends in the Les Cayes area where the earthquake hit and where I flew too. Gangs are running amok, and people are looting in towns. 

 

When the earthquake hit, and I got called to fly a couple of trips and I didn’t think twice about it. Most of my family didn’t like me going there again, but in a way, it felt like a calling. I was happy Wayman Aviation supported me with this trip. The amazing Katie at the Wayman pilot shop arranged a headset for me for my flights in Haiti which was much appreciated. Before I knew it, I was on my way to one of the worst earthquakes the country had ever seen.

 

While still packing my things I was looking back on the last flights I had done. I felt a deep sadness for the people of this country. But I was proud that I got to fly some families to safety, and that I’d have my GMAA award luncheon the next day. That’s when my phone rang, I stopped packing and picked up “Can you bring 3 missionaries from Port-Au-Prince to Jeremie?”. 

 

Of course, I said yes, what would you do? The Haitian people need all the help they could get. Besides, even though it would be tight, I’d have enough time to make my flight back to Miami.

 

While pre-flighting my trusty Cessna-172 I knew it was going to be tight. Thinking about not being able to make it to the GMAA luncheon made my stomach turn. “That’s just unacceptable man” was a thought that kept going through my head. I kept pushing it to the side.

 

And of course, what ends up happening? My 3 passengers arrived late. I contemplated canceling the flight and got into a weird situation mentally. “I could bring them, but then I’d risk not being able to make my flight and miss my GMAA luncheon.” However, the thought of not bringing these people who are here to help the Haitians was more powerful. I loaded up the airplane, did my safety checks, briefed the passengers, cranked the engine and took-off west bound along the beautiful Haitian coast. 

 

In Haiti

Me cruising in the C402 in Haiti

After landing safely in Jeremie and dropping my passengers off I noticed everything just took way longer than expected, coupled with the passengers being late and I wasn’t going to make my flight home. I made sure the people were safe and took off towards Port-Au-Prince. That’s when I calculated that my flight to my GMAA luncheon would take-off when I would land at Port-Au-Prince. While climbing to cruising altitude my stomach turned upside down.

 

I was gliding through the warm Haitian skies, the little Cessna engine was doing what it’s always been doing at 2300rpm, and I was looking outside and couldn’t see the beauty of the world for a bit. I felt utterly gutted. My brain was definitely working against me thinking “You messed up man”.  This was the moment where I made an important decision in my life. “Sometimes you just have to say no”. Even though I believe I made the right decision, in the future I promised myself that I would guard myself more. My goals and the things that are important for me. Even if it means that I have to cancel a flight. That was my personal -lifelong- lesson that day. I felt bad that I was going to miss my flight and that there was nothing I could do. Or was there?

 

The least I could do is ask if Sander (One of the guys I work with) can check me in already and be ready when I arrive to take me to the airport asap. Then we’ll see”. Luckily this was not an issue. Getting closer to Port-Au-Prince I couldn’t believe my eyes. My ticket home, that beautiful JetBlue airbus, was still on the ground. I might still be able to make it! 

 

Since I was flying alone, I requested a short approach into the airport to shave off some time. I taxied in, parked the airplane, turned off the engine and saw my good friend Sander, who works as a mechanic, waiting with my bags already. Getting out he was laughing so hard I could barely understand him. “That was a nice landing! Now go to the airport, your car is waiting to bring you!” Running away in the Haitian heat I thanked him; I ran through the general aviation building with my bags before jumping into the taxi towards the main terminal. 

 

At the airport I made it through all the security checks, the passport agent wanted to double check all my documents and I was thinking to myself “Really? now?” I hurried my way to the gate, almost stumbled over my own feet, showed my ticket to the gate agent, ran towards the airplane and jumped through the door while the flight attendant was closing the door for departure. As I lay on the ground in the galley, some sweat dripping of my forehead. I caught my breath for a few seconds before getting up. The people in the cabin stood up and started clapping and congratulating me. I made it, I made the flight home for my GMAA luncheon. Just barely though.

 

Ok, everything except the jumping through the door and the people clapping for me was real. But that’s how I felt when I made the flight. By some bizarre miracle my flight got delayed and I was able to make it just in time. I was off to Miami and to the GMAA luncheon the day after. What a day.

 

I slept in that morning when my phone rang. “Good morning, I’m with the GMAA. We are sorry to say that the company that sponsors the scholarship can’t get you the Falcon-20 type-rating anymore. We were able to get you a Boeing 737 type-rating with them. We hope you don’t mind, and we’ll see you this afternoon”.

As you can imagine I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I was very happy to be able to pick up my phone that morning. And that’s how I got to Miami just in time for one of the most important days in my flying career.