Flying to Haiti – 1,000 Miles of Caribbean Blue

I easily lose myself just staring at the blue water world beneath me.

We are somewhere south of Eluethera flying at 9,500 feet, in the heart of the Bahamas, destination Cap-Haitien on the north coast of Haiti. Blue water of every hue stretches into forever. The Caribbean sea so clear, I believe I can see fish. The only delineation between the water and sky is the white of the clouds that grow larger as the sun warms the day. Today I’m the volunteer co-pilot of a Cessna Caravan flying supplies to missionaries in Haiti and The Dominican Republic.

Sunrise over the Bahamas

Sunrise over the Bahamas ©2011 Carlton Grooms

Flying can often become boring and monotonous on long legs. Especially in low traffic areas like the Caribbean or Western United States. As long as the plane holds itself together, you are along for the ride until it comes time to prepare for landing. Back in the days before GPS, when I flew in the Navy, I often would bring a road atlas for the U.S. with me so I could know what I was looking at on the ground. When looking at hundreds of miles of Caribbean below you, such a map is useless.

But do you really need a map to know that you have a front row seat to paradise? For stretches well over an hour, on this and other flights over the Caribbean, I easily lose myself just staring at the blue water world beneath me. Sometimes you see a small boat and wonder from where they came. There is always a deserted small island or sandbar only visible at low tide to ponder. The parallel is much like staring into a camp fire, you can’t help looking and then you can’t look away.

Caribbean Blue

Caribbean Blue ©2011 Carlton Grooms

As I daydream, passing the time, I remember a day when I flew from Naval Air Station, Roosevelt Roads on the far eastern tip of Puerto Rico. We had our trusty A-6E Intruder loaded with twelve live five-hundred pound bombs. Vieques island to the east was our target. We were to fly a route north of the Virgin Islands, circle around them and come back to bomb Vieques from the south. We launched early, accelerated and dropped down to around 100 feet over the sea.

There can be little else in this human life as amazing as flying at almost five-hundred miles an hour over the Caribbean at 100 feet. Except for flying by a sailboat of topless women. Which we encountered. Immediately we put the jet into a 6-G turn to circle back and wave hello! A smile cracks on my face as I remember this. The radio in the Caravan crackles and brings me back to reality. No bombs nor boobs today.

For this flight to Haiti, I’m flying for Agape Flights. A missionary group based in Venice, Florida. I made five of these flights before this particular plane had the engine fail on the way home and was lost in the Caribbean. Both pilots, I was scheduled to be one of them that day, made it out alive. I haven’t flown since.

I approached Agape a few years ago and offered my services. I figured they could use a pilot and I could enjoy some flight time in the Caribbean. It seemed a good match and I appreciated what they were doing. I’m not an overtly religious person, but who can’t help feeling good about doing something like this?

The Cessna Caravan we are flying is a wonderful work horse of an airplane. Fedex uses them in remote regions of the country to deliver packages. They don’t need much runway, are easy on fuel consumption, only have one engine to maintain and plenty of room in the fuselage and in belly pods to carry cargo. Topping it all off, the plane is ridiculously easy to fly.

Cruise ship on Haiti North Coast

Cruise ship on Haiti North Coast ©2011 Carlton Grooms

Approaching Cap-Haitien, the first thing you see is a cruise ship. Yes, a cruise ship. Which cruise lines come to Haiti? Many actually. They pull up on a ‘Private’ area which they give their own name to. I hear the area is cut off from the rest of Haiti and is all government land. Many people on these ships have no idea they are in Haiti.

This little distraction behind we approach the city from the southwest, if you can call a series of mud huts and cinderblock squares a city. A big mountain rests between us and the airfield, so there is no radio contact. We have no idea what is happening at the airport. Is the runway open? Are there other airplanes coming into land as well? Nothing. We descend down to 1,200 feet and turn the corner.

Cap-Haitien Runway

Cap-Haitien Runway ©2011 Carlton Grooms

Finally Cap-Haitien presents itself to us as we come in from the south. We finally make contact with the tower. Cleared to land, I make the approach. I’m told to watch out for people and cattle on the runway. I see something or someone on the first five-hundred feet and have to stop my descent so I can overfly it before settling onto the tarmac. Now I’ve given up a chunk of room, I need to be aware that the end of the runway meets the Caribbean water. I land as soon as I can and throw the engine into beta (reverse thrust). I feel the comfortable sensation of being thrown forward knowing that today I won’t have to swim.

Welcome to Cap-Haitien, welcome to Haiti.

Cap-Hatien Neighborhood

Cap-Hatien Neighborhood ©2011 Carlton Grooms

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One Response to “Flying to Haiti – 1,000 Miles of Caribbean Blue”

  1. Rob June 22, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    good story Carl.

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