Katrina

I had a conversation with people (not government) who are having a "grass roots" effort to do whatever they can.  It has been organized by a company that apparently brokers between vacation home owners and those wishing to rent them.  I read about their effort on their web site www.vacationrentalsforfamilies.com 

The people who run this are pilots and have organized this effort.  Their staging area is Dekalb Peachtree Airport in Atlanta.  I am leaving Philadelphia on Tuesday September 6th, 2005 in the afternoon for Atlanta.  They told me on Monday that I will be asked to fly to either Louisiana or Mississippi to pick up families and bring them to Atlanta where lodging will be arranged for them.  I was also advised to bring along a sleeping bag and whatever personal articles I may need.  The first flight will probably be as soon as I arrive in Atlanta.  I spoke with Dick Ruthven and I am welcome to stay in his home.  He lives about 45 minutes from the airport in Atlanta.  I will certainly take advantage of his and Sue's kindness if the opportunity presents itself.  I will keep you advised on this page if I can get internet access.  I plan on return to Philadelphia by Saturday evening.

 

On Sunday (August 28th) I happen to be flying (North) when I downloaded this Satellite image. 

I recently sent this email to many of my friends:

Hi,
The scenes are incredible. Watching television and seeing the devastation is one thing. The human tragedy is almost beyond comprehension. We all must do what we can do. Since I fly I have been reading my email from various aviation organizations to which I belong, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., Angel Flight, etc. I am registered as a "First Responder" by Dept of Homeland Security however there has been no call for our services yet.  Angel Flight has been in contact with the government and has volunteer pilots standing by.
An organization named "Vacation Rentals For Families" in Atlanta has organized an effort. Although it is not sponsored by the government, is not a charitable organization and I can't guaranteed that it's completely legit, it does sound like it is for real. I have spoken to the gentleman who runs it. He is also a pilot (bigger plane than mine) and seems knowledgeable and dedicated. They have arraigned Vacation Homes that have been contributed to be used by the refugees (I can't think of another word). (www.vacationrentalsforfamilies.com).
I volunteered. I will be flying to Atlanta on Tuesday at which time I will pick up doctors who have volunteered and take them to Mississippi and Louisiana. From there I will pick up families and fly them back to Atlanta or other areas in Georgia and surrounding states who will be able to stay in the vacation homes that have been donated. I was told that they can't help me out with fuel, but it might be available at a discount, but in any event it is at least available at Peachtree Dekalb Airport in Atlanta (their staging area). They have no hotel rooms available to stay overnight in the Atlanta area at the present, but they do have people who have made rooms in their homes available.
I'm busy and have much to do in the office. However you all know Steven who is more than able to take care of everything (he does now).  I expect to be there for about 5 days. Of course everyone else in the office is here to work for you. I will certainly be in touch by cell phone and email although there will probably be no cell service when I stop in the Gulf Area or while I am in the air. Please know that all of your needs will be taken care of in my absence and I am in close contact with the office at all times.
I will try let you know how it is going and try and send some pictures while I am gone.
Please think of what you can do to help.
Arthur

TUESDAY 9-6

Well, here I am.  Atlanta Dekalb Peachtree Airport.  It took me a little under four hours.  Ready to leave on my first mission.  Was to fly tonight to Baton Rouge to pick up a family of four people.  Unfortunately they got lost somewhere between the Red Cross facility and the Airport in Louisiana.  I waited around for a couple of hours and then checked into a hotel room.  (No sleeping bag-air mattress tonight.)  They think they may call me sometime later this evening or even during the night to pick these people up.  If not, I leave at 8:30 AM tomorrow morning to pick up four or five people in Baton Rouge and fly them to Atlanta.  I should be able to make two or maybe three round trips a day (about 2 1/2 hours each leg).

These people are either being met in Atlanta by relatives or predominantly being picked up and housed by churches, relief facilities and other organizations. 

I was to make up the signs on the right and place them in specific windows of the plane to identify my mission to ground crews.   I was given the following documents upon arrival in Atlanta by the group of people who put this effort together. 

1.  A letter from the Governor of Louisiana's office requesting the help.

2.  Authorization contacts for my flying these trips.  This might become necessary if I am stopped or questioned about flying in the "no fly zones" around the Gulf.  These include two military officers (a Captain and a Colonel from the Dept. of Defense), Two contacts at the Louisiana Governor's Office, and a person at Homeland Security.  (This would only be in the event that my boyish charm doesn't work.)

This organization has now been contacted by the Governor of Mississippi and they would like help.  Tomorrow the plan is to fly upwards of 30 people from Baton Rouge to Atlanta, however if we start flying people from Mississippi tomorrow it could be upwards of 100 people a day.

I am quite moved by the support and encouragement that I have received from so many of my friends.  I feel that I am doing this for all of us. 

Assuming I don't fly tonight, I expect tomorrow will be busy.  I'll keep you informed.

WEDNESDAY 9-7

Assignment of the day, fly to Baton Rouge and pick up people who are relocating to Atlanta.  The coordination effort takes a strain on those who are doing the organizing.  It is becoming apparent where the bottleneck is.  There is a staff (all volunteers) in Atlanta whose job it is to coordinate the pilots and planes.  There are beginning to be more and more planes and pilots available. 

The churches, Salvation Army and other organizations are really ready to take people in.  I take off for Baton Rouge, flying by the Mighty Mississippi.

After waiting around for a couple of hours (the people were late) people began to show up.  The real problem seems to be in Baton Rouge.  They are making announcements in the shelters in Baton Rouge that those who wish to relocate in Atlanta are to make themselves known.  They either have to have someone meeting them in Atlanta who will take them in, or be willing to work with the Churches and other organizations who are helping to relocate those in need.  Children however have to have someone to meet them.  They cannot just go to a shelter.  THERE ARE MANY MANY CHILDREN.  At first there were 8 people to be transported today, then it became 35, then 24.  Finally the staff there began to organize the people into planes.  Here they are getting ready to be assigned to a flight.
Here are my five passengers.  When the people were assigned planes, it was important to try and keep families together.  These five were sisters and were being met in Atlanta by their aunt who was going to take them in.

There are quite a few "tough moments."  I asked them how much baggage they were taking with them.  The look I got gave the answer.  They had NOTHING BUT THE CLOTHES THEY WERE WEARING and a box lunch supplied by the Red Cross.  THAT'S IT!!

In the previous picture I asked if they would pose for one shot.  I like to have pictures of those I have flown.  Amazingly they smiled for the camera, but I did not see many smiles other then that. 

I have flown many children, and often those are patients.  However I could almost always get a smile.  Not here.  It is hard for me to put into words but there seemed to be a look of despair.  No real look of anticipation.  Just a look that really says that at that very young age, they have seen too much and experienced too much unpleasantness.

 

One of my passengers was always smiling.

It was about a 2 hour 45 minute flight out to Baton Rouge and a 3 hour flight back.  I don't know if any of them had ever flown before (if so, probably not in a private plane).  They rarely looked out the window (it was a beautiful day).

A Happy Arrival at Atlanta

It always amazed me how these children would smile for a picture (maybe just trying to please), but other then that they just sat around and waited.

People from a Church Organization showed up and were very helpful and well organized.  They arranged for the children I was flying to be met by their aunt.  They checked the aunt's identification very carefully.  If was apparent however that the children knew their aunt.

There were about 18 people (again mostly children) who were flown from Baton Rouge to Atlanta today (and four from Baton Rouge to Kansas City). 

Here is a picture of the children I flew, along with the representatives of the combined organizations of those supervising the flights, as well as reps from the charitable organizations. 

The organization at the Baton Rouge end is weak.  The Red Cross is supposed to be organizing the people to fly out of Louisiana, but their resources and personnel must be stretched very thin.  A rep of the pilots went to Washington today to see what can be done.  We have the pilots and the places for people to stay.  All we really need is those who wish to leave Louisiana.  (They are also trying to do some organizing in Mississippi.)

Tomorrow morning I am leaving Atlanta at 7:30 AM to fly to Baton Rouge and pick up 5 more people.  Oddly enough it looks like I am taking back a woman who was brought into Atlanta yesterday.  She told the Red Cross that she had a ticket to go from Atlanta to Las Vegas so she was put on a flight.  It turned out she didn't have a ticket to Vegas.  She asked the pilots to find someone to fly her to Las Vegas.  Nobody here is going that way so she was told she could stay in the shelter in Atlanta, fend for herself, or we could take her back to Baton Rouge.  She thinks she will go back but will let us know Thursday morning.

After tomorrow's flight, I'll just see what they schedule for me next.

Thursday 9-8

The woman (not going to Vegas) is to meet me at 7:30 AM at the plane and ready to go back to Baton Rouge.  I got up at six, packed my bags, loaded up the plane and waited, and waited.  She never showed up.  There were two other planes that were going to Baton Rouge to pick up some more people.  I was to pick up 5 and bring them back to Atlanta.  On the way out, I got a good view (on the tablet computer) of the tropical storm Ophelia.

It is becoming apparent where the bottleneck is.  There are planes and pilots available, although many really can't fly a great deal without help with the fuel bills.  There are still quite a few of us that are going to fly as much as we physically can.  The churches and other organizations are doing a good job in Atlanta.  The problem is gathering the people in and around the New Orleans area, getting them to Baton Rouge, and then arranging for someone to take them in.

I arrived in Baton Rouge (about a three hour flight) and then waited while people were brought to the airport to be transported.  It was important that people (often relatives) were arraigned to pick them up where we were taking them. 

We waited quite a while at the Baton Rouge Airport while people were brought there.  Fortunately cell phones worked (they did not earlier in the week) so that the logistics could be handled.

In the meantime, the people in Baton Rouge had lunch for us.  Really good Jambalaya, although a little too hot for me.  (They told me that it was very mild.)

While everything was being sorted out, it was decided that I would take three people (including a mother and her infant) to Gadsden Alabama.  They had NEVER been in an airplane before (of any type) and had never really been to an airport.  The gentleman on the right is a minister from the local church.  He had been taking care of them and making arrangements for their travel.  He went with them to the airplane although he was not flying with us.  The women wanted to pray before they boarded so they took some time to do that at the plane.  (I usually pray silently before I take off.)

These three had been MISSING.  They are sisters and the infant is the child of women holding her.  Their parents, grandparents and other relatives had not heard from them until the minister found them and contacted the parents. 

By the time we got started it was late in the afternoon.  They were certainly nervous.  The girl on the left was visibly scared.  I tried to calm them down and kept a careful eye on them during the flight. 

You can see how close Baton Rouge is to New Orleans.  It is really the "staging point" for evacuations, although the confusion in the area is most obvious.

An interesting aviation note:  Some of the communications are out especially in and around the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) area.  These are basically no fly zones (unless you have a really good reason).  There are two military planes in the air at all times that are used for air traffic control.  The controllers are actually in the planes as they are circling the area. 

There were about a dozen people rushing toward the plane as I taxied up.  The linemen kept them away from the props, which I shut down quickly.  The grandfather on the left in the blue shirt and the mother in the white skirt were really emotional.  They told me (when things calmed down) that they really thought they had lost the three of them.  Nobody knew if they were even alive until the minister found them. 

The frustration here is high.  Trying to get people to leave their cities, as devastated as they are has been difficult for the Red Cross.  The Churches in the area have been a big help.  On the other hand, you just can't take people and send them someplace.  Someone must be ready to take them and security is certainly an issue.

The five girls I flew to Atlanta the other day were not released to their aunt until her identification was carefully checked, even though the children obviously knew their aunt.

I was not to leave these people until I was satisfied that they were being left with the correct people.  (With all the tears, screams, hugs and crying it was obviously these were the right people.)

I dead-headed back to Atlanta and will sleep very well tonight.  When I returned to Atlanta tonight I was asked if I was willing to fly to Knoxville Tennessee and pick up medicine and take it to Baton Rouge.  I was truthfully too exhausted and I did not think it would be safe for me to fly the way I felt.  It was not problem for them and I may be asked to take that trip tomorrow morning. 

The organization is regrouping over the next couple of days to see if there is a better way of getting people to Baton Rouge and ready to fly.  In the meantime however I see email from the Angel Flight organizations I fly for with possible flights that can be made to reunite families - - many of them in the northeast.  I will look more closely at that when I return to Philadelphia.

In the meantime, I'll see what is needed tomorrow.  I want to thank so many people for their emails and messages.  I appreciate it.  It makes me feel that my friends are all a part of this.  

Friday 9-9

I slept well last night.  Got to sleep about 1 AM and just woke up (9 AM).  I guess my body needed the sleep.  I did bring along a sleeping bag and air mattress but fortunately they weren't needed.  Up until the time I got here, pilots were sleeping on the floor in Baton Rouge, but the logistics improved and the staging area moved to Atlanta by the time I arrived.

I spoke with the people running this effort (The organization has taken the name "My Brothers Keeper").  They intend to regroup and begin working with other cities besides Baton Rouge.  It looks like some in Mississippi are possible.  There will also be efforts made to fly into smaller airports, nearer the people.  That will only work if people in those areas can organize.  Faith based groups have been and will be most helpful.  THE LATEST FROM THIS GROUP IS COPIED BELOW.  I hope this gives a better idea as to what this organization has been doing and trying to do.

They may have another flight for me but I won't know until I get to the airport.  In any event, I will return.

More later.

Saturday 9-10 (Early AM)

I arrived home late Friday night.  I really don't know what else to write.  I was (as they say in the old West) the last plane out of Dodge.  The organization was regrouping.  In the meantime, the Angel Flight groups were beginning to fly families to join relatives in various parts of the country.

This has really been too big to comprehend.  People who had very little to begin with now have nothing.  Just throwing money at the problem just isn't enough.  Yes it is desperately needed.  Infrastructure must  be rebuilt.  But what I saw was desperate short term needs.  Organizations were working hard but we are not talking about the needs of thousands, but of hundreds of thousands.

I know I did very little as far as the big picture was concerned.  But the feeling was indescribable when I landed and saw parents and grandparents greet their children who they thought were lost.  On the other hand, the look on the faces of those sitting in Baton Rouge, waiting for - - - - - - - - - just waiting.

I know that I am different today than I was a week ago.  I also know I'm not finished.

 

9/8/05


Update

The partnership of Vacation Rentals For Families , www.VacationRentalsForFamilies.com
Graduate Medical Consultants, www.GMCGroup.org , the hundreds of Civilian Pilots from AOPA & EAA, physicians and volunteers, has resulted in the tremendous success of our humanitarian mission, “Operation Brothers Keepers”.

The opportunity to serve the people of Louisiana has been made possible through the cooperative efforts and assistance from congressmen, David Scott, his aide Dave Johnson, Whitehouse personnel, Sr. Staff and Karen Zoeller from the Governors office of the state of Louisiana. For there unwavering support in the face of inter-agency jurisdiction disputes between FEMA, Red Cross, DOD; we and the families their efforts assisted, TRULY THANK YOU.

Our medical director, Dr. Cecil Bennett spent many days on the ground in the River Center; one of the largest shelters housing victims of the storm, providing medical assistance to patients, while assessing their condition for extraction flights from Baton Rouge. We would also like to thank Congressman Phillip Gingrey MD, who set an example for all of us as he worked as a clinician aiding patients in need at the River Center shelter.

Our principle mission has been and will continue to be to reunite families devastated by the storm. Our reward was clear to all upon the arrival of the first family reunited with their love ones, and we continue to be rewarded as the mission continues.

Today our mission “Operation Brothers Keepers” is eight days from its conception. By tomorrow it will have flown in excess of one hundred (100) evacuees, twenty (20) plus medical professionals and administrative support personnel; responsible for getting to victims in shelters, from it’s base in Baton Rouge. More than forty five volunteers served in various capacities providing aircraft ground support, housing coordination and communications, working out of our makeshift command and control center established within our homes, volunteer homes then at EPP’s aviation in Atlanta. We would truly like to offer our thanks to the EPP’s family, their staff and crew. Their active support made it possible to turn aircraft and provide flight crews with critical ground support. We would not have been nearly as safe in the air without the weather support and in flight services provided by ASA Airlines. We also acknowledge the sacrifice of the many professional pilots from ASA, DELTA, & Northwest Airlines, who sacrificed vacation time and took leaves to participate in our flight operations.

We have effectively demonstrated the unlimited potential of the American citizens ability to overcome obstacles. FEMA, the Red Cross and other agencies have been exposed to alternatives to their traditional thinking. Tomorrow our “Operation Brothers Keepers” will suspend passenger carrying operations, to facilitate to transport of needed medical supplies and emergency materials in areas of Mississippi. Flight Operations Director, Milo Pinckney and Medical Director, Dr. Cecil Bennett will meet with representatives of volunteer organizations to evaluate resource allocations. We anticipate resumed operations on Tuesday 9/13/05. We will use this break to relocate our command center to more permanent facilities and to evaluate our programs ability to meet needs uncovered in Mississippi. The effort has been challenging and we are determined to continue as the results have been rewarding.

Again, your support and generosity continue to be reflected in the tears of joy on the faces of families you have directly helped get HOME.


Gail R. Pinckney, President VRFF
Milo D. Pinckney, CFO, GMC Group
Cecil F. Bennett MD, CEO GMC Group