How I Almost Crashed Our Helicopter In Haiti

This is probably a post I’ll regret making, but its just such an interesting story I thought I’d share.
A friend offered for me to spend some time in Haiti.  Since it was only a 90 minute helicopter ride away from Santo Domingo, I accepted.  I also wanted to see my friend who lives in Port Au Prince and learn more about what was going on. My friend’s team had 3 helicopters over in Port Au Prince and they were delivering aid across the city.  At night they were sleeping in an orphanage.

me in front of the presidential palace in port au prince

I was offered to help the guys deliver supplies via helicopter.  “sure”, I said, not really knowing what that meant.  Our pilot was a very nice guy named Ryan who had spent 4 years flying helicopters in the middle east for the US military.  He really knew what he was doing.

So we load up into the chopper, per this shot.

See the big box on my lap in the chopper?

The back of the chopper was full and I had the big box on my lap.  That big box was going to be a problem later.  🙂

So then we fly out to a basically empty field which looked like this:

empty field (for right now)

What happens when a helicopter shows up and delivers free stuff out of the sky?  That empty field within 90 seconds looks like this:

chopper dropping supplies

I am not kidding.  The formerly barren field is suddenly filled with people who just show up out of absolutely nowhere.  We still have no idea where they all come from.  Its more than a little scary – these are people in a very desperate situation

Anyways, Ryan told me we have to get to another empty field, put the chopper down, get out and then drop off all the supplies before the haitians can run over to the chopper and try to get in and/or steal from us.  So we find an empty field and start to land.  This is immediately what I saw:

people running towards the helicopter

I got (ahem) a little nervous.  So I frantically tried to get the big box out of the chopper.  Unfortunately the box got wedged on the steering column which controls the entire helicopter.  I was pretty nervous about the guys running towards us, so I did get the box out, but almost rolled the chopper in the process.  Ryan fortunately was able to keep control of it.  He said later on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is extremely dangerous that my little maneuver with the box rated a “9”.

We were able to drop the supplies off, this is people picking them up:

people picking up supplies after we drop them off

and here’s a zoom of one of their faces as they’re looking up at us:

expression on a guys face as we're dropping off supplies

And this photo is of the moment exactly as I almost rolled the helicopter:

the exact moment i almost rolled the chopper

You can see in the above photo how close everyone got to us (and remember, this was a previously empty field).

Apparently we probably would not have been killed, but it would not have been much fun. So Ryan, thanks for keeping things under control!

I’m not sure there’s anything to be learned here other than be careful if you visit a disaster zone, and have a lot of respect for the people who are out there risking their lives.

UPDATE: One of the pilots (Ty Corbridge) dug up a video as we were doing one of the dropoffs. You can watch it here: