Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Catastrophic earthquake in Haiti disrupts air traffic

by B. N. Sullivan

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurred 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti shortly before 5:00 PM Local time on January 12, 2010. The initial quake was followed by numerous aftershocks. Early reports from the area indicate massive damage to buildings and infrastructure and innumerable casualties. In short, this appears to be a truly catastrophic natural disaster.

Air traffic between Haiti and the rest of the world has been disrupted. The last commercial flight to leave the island was American Airlines Flight AA 1908, which was reportedly boarding at Toussaint Louverture International Airport (PAP) as the earthquake struck. The aircraft managed to depart about one hour later and safely completed its scheduled flight to Miami.

The Palm Beach Post interviewed a passenger from Flight AA 1908 after he arrived in Miami. The passenger said he had been inside the terminal at PAP when the earthquake struck.
“It felt like a plane had hit the building, that’s how strong it was,” he said as he emerged from Customs tonight about 9:15 p.m. “But it turned out to be an earthquake.”

He said passengers panicked.

The airline officials told the passengers to wait, but most those who had been scheduled to fly decided not to, he said.

“The airport building itself, was badly damaged, cracked,” he said. The lights went out.

When the flight finally took off, he looked down on the area surrounding the airport.

“I saw buildings that fell down,” he said. “There were some lights still on, but not everywhere. You could see helicopters flying to give help.”
The Wall Street Journal quoted an American Airlines spokeswoman who said that the PAP airport, which was damaged by the earthquake, was closed Tuesday night(Jan. 12) and would remain closed Wednesday (Jan. 13). She also said that 176 passengers had originally been scheduled to board Flight AA 1908, but that the majority "chose to stay behind" after the quake struck. In the end, only 49 passengers and 11 crew members flew to Miami on the Boeing 767 aircraft.

Spirit Airlines, which also flies between the U.S. and Haiti, issued a statement a short time ago, saying:
Spirit has cancelled Wednesday's flights between Fort Lauderdale and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and will reinstate service as soon as the airport is open.

Spirit is currently reaching out to first-responder organizations and other early-stage disaster relief resources/agencies in order to assist with transporting medical and other professionals, as well as equipment to Port-au-Prince as soon as we are able to operate flights to that airport in an effort to assist as much as possible until the U.S. government and larger relief and humanitarian organizations can gear up what is expected to be a major relief effort.
Several news reports have mentioned that the control tower at PAP was destroyed.