Marsh Harbor Relief Mission

Hurricane Dorian’s eyewall approaches Marsh Harbor Bahamas.

What started out as a text message from myself to Jim Hagedorn, quickly turned into a full blown mission. My text expressed my interest in trying to take Warbird over to the Bahamas to bring relief supplies. When I sent this text, Warbird was off the coast of Nova Scotia, over 1500 miles away from the devastated northern Bahamas. Haggy immediately agreed and asked where I thought our team could focus our efforts. Knowing hurricane Dorian smashed into Marsh Harbor as a Category 5, that area came to mind. I spent a great deal of time over the years cruising in the Abacos and felt a connection when I saw the raw footage on the news. We both agreed that Warbird was too far away to make any immediate contribution and any help would have to be by air. Little did I know that less than 72 hours later I would be landing early morning in Stuart, Florida for day one of our relief mission.

Early morning wheels down in Stuart.

We landed before 0600 in Stuart and it was clear a plan was already in motion. There were mountains of various supplies including; a dozen satellite phones, generators, bottled water, diapers, tarps, just too mention a few. On the ground there was a team fueling and loading three Scotts Miracle-Gro jets to full capacity. We even had our own KVH mini VSAT for communications with the help of Oceanwide Marine Electronics to ensure we had phone and internet as needed.

Loading supplies in Stuart.

FYI, Don’t store baby formula in the back of the Jet!

The next step after we were loaded was to brief our goals of the day and make sure everybody understood their roll. We all introduced ourselves and finalized details. The goal was simple: Get into Marsh Harbor, establish a command post, deliver our supplies, and then begin the process of getting survivors out of harm’s way.

Morning brief in Stuart prior to our departure for the Bahamas.

Passing Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island when landing in Nassau.

We departed Stuart for Nassau, Bahamas. We were told we had to clear into the Bahamas in Nassau before going to the Abacos. This should have been a pretty simple process, little did we know this would be the start of the many bureaucratic problems that laid ahead. We landed and cleared customs, ready to get airborne to Marsh Harbor. This is when we encountered our first delay of the day. We were unable to get authorization to fly into the Abacos. All of the paperwork was filed, but lack of communication in the Bahamian government stopped us cold. There we were, full with supplies and ready to assist and the Bahamian government was completely unprepared to make this happen. Haggy was unwilling to let this stop us. (No surprise to those who know him!) He taxied into town and went directly to the office of Civil Aviation and was able to get a verbal clearance for us to proceed on our mission. Next stop, the Abacos!

We were fortunate enough to hook up with a local from the Abacos, Errol “T” Thruston. T’s family was in Marsh Harbor during the storm. He was still waiting to confirm they were safe when we left Nassau. We also gave a lift to a reporter from the London Times. Here you can see her interviewing T on the flight over.

Marsh Harbor and the Abacos were completely devastated. Here were our first views on the way in. We first flew over Marsh Harbor but ended up landing in Treasure Cay to the North. As we approached, the extent of the devastation became apparent to all.

As we approached Marsh Harbor, we all got our first live look at the destruction.

Jim’s plane finally landed in Treasure Cay. We first performed a flyby of the airstrip to get a feel for what we could expect. We had heard of relief planes that had landed less than 24 hours before us that had been held up and robbed at gun point. We were ready for the worst! Once we landed we were happy to see that local law enforcement was there including heavily armed members of the Bahamian Defense Force.

Once on the ground in Treasure Cay we began unloading our supplies to begin relief efforts. Only one of the three jets was able to get clearance to leave Nassau. Jim’s plane was on the ground in the Abacos, the other two were stuck in Nassau unable to proceed.

One of the vital members of our team was Captain William Busch. A doctor and 30 year Navy Veteran that would be in charge of the ground portion of the rescue team.

Hundreds of locals were standing by trying to get on a plane off the island. There was no shelter from the sun and no real leadership in place. It was as if nobody had anywhere else to go. They were just waiting for something or someone to help.

As soon as we unloaded the first plane we were asked to transport survivors to Nassau. There was a team on the ground from the Cleveland Clinic that was performing triage and asked us to assist. Within minutes Jim’s plane was loaded with patients and back in the air to Nassau.

Local survivors finally able to get off the island.

Haggy on the return flight.

After a few hours the second two planes finally made it to Treasure Cay.

There was a US Coast Guard presence. Coast Guard helicopters were landing through out the day transporting patients off the Island.

The remains of this building was one of the only structures standing at the airport. This is where the locals began to stockpile the supplies that were coming in. Even though the structure didn’t have a roof, it provided security so the items would not be stolen.

This was the first load of supplies that we were able to get on the ground to the locals.

Stopped in our tracks!

Jim’s plan landed in Nassau, but after hours on the ground was unable to gain clearance back to Treasure Cay. Our team was able to load the second plane with more patients but that is where the mission came to an end. We received word that once the second two planes departed we were not going to be able to get back into the Abacos that day. The call was made to pull the team off the Island with the third plane. We didn’t want to run the risk of leaving anybody overnight. By 1600 we were all on our way back to Nassau. Once on the ground it was a few more hours until we were able to gain clearance out of Nassau and back to Stuart. We then sat on the Taxiway of a “not so busy” airport for two additional hours waiting to take off. It became clear that the government of the Bahamas was not able to coordinate the vast amount of assets and resources it had at it’s disposal. We were not the only rescue team that was hindered by this lack of leadership. Hopefully this will change in the days ahead.

Crew members on the return flight after a long day.

Back on the ground in Stuart. Logan, Jeff, and Haggy reflect on the day’s events.

We started out the day with the goal of helping out in any way possible. We had high expectations but due to issues out of our control, were unable to contribute the team’s full potential. What we did accomplish will in no doubt help make life easier for many Bahamians in need. Babies will have formula and diapers. Generators will provide evening light and power. Satellite phones will allow loved ones to reconnect after waiting in silence. These families will always be grateful that somebody cared. Restoration in kindness, caring, and humanity. We could, so we did! I am very proud of the team. This mission will be complete when there are no more people screaming help. Standby, there will be more to come……..

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