Please find below an email from Paul with some details of how your support enabled his tremendous recovery efforts.
Please accept my sincere gratitude for all of your tremendous support over the past two weeks following the immediate passage of Hurricane Dorian. It has been an incredible effort thus far and although much has been accomplished, the road ahead is long. I have been silent over the past six weeks due to the amount of work we have been putting in. The hours in the cockpit have been long 14 hour days followed by evenings filled with scheduling a logistics.
Due to the scale of the devastation inflicted on our islands, we knew from the onset that this response was going to be very different from previous immediate hurricane response operations. Formerly, we have typically mobilized purely as a private organization with little government involvement. What we saw when we flew over Marsh Harbour and Hope Town while they were still under Tropical Storm force winds, was larger than any one organization could handle. We offered our services to the Government of the Bahamas through cooperation with the Defense Force and under the operational control of Trans Island. We wanted to focus solely on humanitarian work, taking first responders in and victims out. As a company we had a few rules: No Press, No Social Media, Nothing outside of the mission.
Trans Island Airways over the years has built a strong working relationship with the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority. They were invited on our first flight to asses airports and navigation aids that would be vital to our response. Our first flight was 3 hours long and will always be remembered as one of the more turbulent of my career. Upon recognizance completion, two airports were deemed viable for operations; Scotland Cay and Sandy Point. However they both had tremendous logistical hurdles relating to access. The following day, the water at Marsh Harbour Airport began to subside just enough so that we could land our Caravans with an 11 foot wheel base. Crosswinds at this point were still over 35 kts but the pilots handled it without any issues.
Because Trans Island Airways is the largest Bahamian Aviation operator and the only one with the organizational and operational structure in place to safely work without creating a hazard to others potentially utilizing the airport, we were granted exclusive rights to operate out of Marsh Harbour for the first three days while the water still flooded the taxiways, ramps and runways. The water on the runway was not wide enough for larger planes to land and due to the floodwater, if they landed, nobody else would be able to operate. Our planes are built for short, unimproved conditions and handled the task flawlessly.
On September 3rd, two days after Dorian’s passage and only hours after the US Coast Guard helicopters, we started flying first responders into Marsh Harbour. Our first flights were filled with members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and volunteers who had been coordinated through New Providence Community Center and Headknowles. Thanks to you, it was all done at no cost. That afternoon it was an incredible sight to see people running though knee deep to waist high water, many with only the clothes on their backs and a few personal documents desperate to be evacuated.
When we first sent our fundraising email to you, we had two main goals: Supplies In. People Out. After getting our first wave of flights on the ground and briefing with RBDF Commander Fredrick Brown, a man who I hold in high regard and have worked side by side with during Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew, supplies were deemed secondary to getting people out. Hurricane Dorian’s path and impact changed following my initial email to you on September 1st. The impacted population was projected to be 20,0000 over Abaco. The final count was over 70,000 and now included almost all of Grand Bahama. After viewing what appeared to be the site of a nuclear bomb blast in Marsh Harbour, the very grim reality of death came to the forefront and could only be compared to what I witnessed in Haiti following the tragic earthquake in 2010. One thing was certain we needed to get people out and quickly.
When it comes to evacuating people from impacted areas it becomes a very touchy political football. We can offer seats but the wording needs to be careful, during Hurricane Joaquin it was determined that Crooked Island was uninhabitable by first responders, without a second thought we airlifted 149 people out of the island that afternoon and immediately received tremendous pushback. This scale was different and the magnitude of damage was off the charts. So we provided seats to those that could get to the airport, priority was given to sick and injured, elderly, women and children and then men. No consideration for race, nationality or political affiliation influenced that order. Team Global Support and Development (GSD) and volunteers we flew in from Nassau did a fantastic job at keeping order on the airside and organizing patients.
Our flights operated in waves that allowed security for the planes and passengers to be coordinated and time for them to get to the airport and across the flooded tarmac, and taxiways. The sight of people standing at the end of the runway while we flew overhead to land will remain with me for a long time and served to only strengthen the resolve of our crews to get as many out as quickly as possible. In order to make the greatest impact, we focused all of our efforts into Marsh Harbour for the first 5 days. Not only was the largest population located here, I theorized that our efforts would be diluted if spread out but more impactful if we targeted one airport frequently with all of the force we could deliver. On one day we had over 42 flights out of Marsh Harbour.
As the water levels subsided, more people started to come to the airport and increased pressure was put on the security teams. Day after day we would clear the terminal, only to find more people waiting the next morning. Eventually the water cleared enough for Bahamasair to land, and twice a day they provided between 80 to 120 seats. After a week of evacuations at the tail end of our effort, Delta offered to do evacuation flights out of Marsh Harbour only to find that the situation was completely under control with Trans Island Airways and Bahamasair leaving a combined 76 people for them to airlift out across 2 flights. Some may ask, what happened to the promised target of 320,000 lbs of supplies and goods? The answer is simple, the need was not as great as the majority of people evacuated to Nassau. The immediate relief supplies distribution was re-focused to Nassau and the evacuees and shelters.
At the time of my September 1st email to you, I had no idea that the US Department of Defense was going to send over 12 Helicopters, V22 Ospray and C-130s. I couldn’t imagine the scale of the delays that we would have to work through at the airport that made our turn times so critical to get the planes back to Abaco. When we saw what they were providing in terms of cargo capacity and lift into the distressed areas, we focused even more on our mission of getting people out. Loading Cargo takes time, the supplies need to be brought to the planes, loaded, unloaded and then moved away from the planes. This increased the amount of runway we needed to take off, which meant longer taxi times, and longer turn times in Abaco. Operationally it was not the right decision to maximize our loads each time, it was far more critical to maximize our flights.
When we determined that the evacuation phase of the recovery effort was complete, just over 2,000 combined individuals were evacuated from Marsh Harbour Airport, 1,318 on Trans Island Airways’ planes, 20 of whom were medical evacuations. To Date we have delivered over 70,000 lbs of supplies, including generators, water, ready to eat meals, tools, parts to repair cars & boats and medical supplies. We have carried in over 750 First Responders and growing daily including members of: The Royal Bahamas Defense Force, The Royal Bahamas Police Force, The Jamaican Defense Force, The Trinidadian Defense Force and Coast Guard, The United States Coast Guard, The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority, The United Nations, World Food Program, Team Rubicon, Team GSD, Headknowles, Medic Corps, Bahamas Customs, Bahamas Immigration, Bahamas Water and Sewerage, K1, Core Response, and many others whose names I cannot remember.
Seventeen Days after flights began, the US Military has ceased flying and others have dramatically slowed or discontinued flight operations, however we still continue as the need continues. Yesterday we moved a family of 9 that evacuated their home in Abaco, from Nassau to Eleuthera where they had jobs lined up and housing arranged. After loading their bas, it was a startling realization that it did not fill up even 1 of the 6 baggage compartments on the aircraft. We are still moving volunteers in and providing the government with essential support functions that one doesn’t think of such as moving prisoners arrested for looting into Nassau. The ability to assist with such tasks helps to restore lawful behavior and encourage those that left to return. Individually some functions may seem trivial, but the seemingly unsurmountable devastation and relief effort must be approched methodically bit by bit. As I type this, a flood of requests continue to come in that will be addressed for the weekend. It is impossible to think that there is an end in sight.
I cannot thank you enough for your support. I will provide you with more updates as time and efforts allow. I would like you to take tremendous comfort in knowing your donation and support saved lives and made a tremendous difference in those individuals we were able to help.