Friday, March 6, 2009

Monday, March 2

I departed Minneapolis at 6am for Haiti with my wife Alyn and 3 guests from St. Patrick's Church from Oak Grove, Minnesota. This was Carol's and her sons Michael and John's first trip to Haiti. This trip has become routine for Alyn and I and has always been uneventful. After landing in Miami and a 4 hour layover, we finally bordered our DC10 for Port-au-Prince. These flights are always full with both missionaries and Haitian's returning home or visiting from the US. Our boarding had been delayed because of a mechanical problem but we were now seated and buckled in. After another half hour we were told the problem had not been fixed and we were returning to the gate and were deplaning. This can always be part of travel, and Alyn, Carol, Mike and John just took it in stride. We had warned them that when it comes to Haiti, the schedule is always in flux and could change at anytime. This was one of those times.

After another two hours we finally switched gates and boarded a different plane with an uneventful departure. Because of the time delay, we realize that this would be our first landing at night. Port-au-Prince airport is fairly short, with no taxiways. To taxi to the terminal, the pilot must turn the plane around at the end of the runway and back taxi down the runway. Port-au-Prince airport is in a valley with mountains to the north, mountains to the south, mountains to the east and the ocean to the west.

Our 90 minute flight was short but we we're all tired when the captain called for the flight crew to prepare for landing. It had been a long day starting with getting up at 3am. This is when the fun began. As we descended towards the airport, everyone became abruptly aware that this was not a normal approach. The plane bounced, banked, banged and bumped violently as we heard the landing gear deploy. I've been on many flights and I have to say, this was the roughest. As the wings bank wildly from left to right, I was hoping for a straight in approach. It was then that I heard the reduction of the engines and felt the beginning of the landing flair. I knew it would be just a couple minutes more and we'd be on the ground... I was looking out the window when we dropped below the cloud deck and it was still pitch black with no airport in site. That's when I heard the roar of the engines and felt the plane change attitude as it began to climb back through the turbulence we had just experienced. The pilot was aborting the landing and "going around".

We heard many gasps and groans as we tumbled through the turbulence and bounced in our seats as we climbed out. After a few minutes the captain came on the overhead and said that had to abort the landing because of a major thunderstorm that was directly over the airport. He informed us that we would be circling for a while and if it didn't clear up that we might head to Dominican Republic and wait it out. A few minutes later we were informed that we were going back to Miami... we were all disappointed, but it was the right thing to do.

So our first night it Haiti was spent in Miami and Tuesday morning we got up to do it again.

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