By Jeff Martinelli
Public Affairs Manager
Pittsburgh International Airport
Allegheny County Airport Authority
On Thursday, Jan., 14, less than 48 hours after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, news hit in Pittsburgh that two sisters, Ali McMutrie and Jamie McMutrie Heckman, were desperately seeking help for the children they were taking care of from the BRESMA orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The sisters, Pittsburgh-area natives, had sent text messages describing the direness of the situation and they feared for the welfare of more than 100 children.
By Friday of that week local officials had swung into action and a plan to rescue 54 of those orphans and Ali and Jamie began to take shape. Through the combined efforts of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Republic Airlines and many other local hospitals and charities, a plane loaded with 4,000 pounds of relief supplies and a contingent of emergency medical staff left Pittsburgh International Airport at approximately Noon on Monday, January 18.
Once the aircraft arrived it would be given one hour to unload the aircraft and then board the children for the return flights to Pittsburgh. Apparently that almost didn’t happen. Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, officials were working hard to make sure their plans were set.
So much of that planning at Pittsburgh International Airport, however, depended on how the flight was going to arrive. It was known that the flight would land in Florida, refuel, and head to Pittsburgh. It was also known that first leg of the flight would be on a military aircraft. But after that, the questions were abundant:
• Would the children clear Customs and Immigration in Florida or here in Pittsburgh?
• Would they be landing in Pittsburgh on a military aircraft or a charter?
• If it were a military aircraft, which of the two bases at Pittsburgh International would the flight arrive?
• Would a charter pull into our gates or head to our FBO?
• What about the condition of the children and the 30-degree weather?
• Where would we put the press?
• Do the Governor and the Congressman want to have a press conference at the airport?
• If so, where do we park satellite trucks for the Today Show and CNN?
Finally, after numerous delays, it was determined that Republic Airways would bring the aircraft to our cargo area where our Operations Staff, Fire Department, and Police Department – along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services we able to safely move the children from the aircraft, to buses and then on to the local hospital.
Meanwhile, the Governor, Congressman and Hospital Official, and one of the sisters were transported to the FBO, for a press conference.
Certainly it was a hectic day. The uncertainty – or fluidness – of the situation created obstacles. However, through it all the Pittsburgh International Airport community knew that it was making a big difference in the lives of 54 children and two incredible sisters that day. It was that common belief that truly made this mission a success.
For pictures of the plane’s arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport, go to www.FlyPittsburgh.com.