United jet drops off relief, picks up evacuees

January 20, 2010 9:13:21 PM PST
A United Airlines plane that unloaded supplies and volunteers in Port-au-Prince has returned to Chicago with passengers who evacuated earthquake-devastated Haiti.ABC7's Ben Bradley was the only Chicago television reporter on United Flight 757 to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday.

About half of those on board the flight returning to Chicago were already U.S. citizens. ABC7 is told the others all previously head visas to come to the United States.

The flight landed in Haiti just hours after the country was rocked by a 6.1 aftershock eight days following the earthquake.

Hundreds of people had lined up at the airport in Port-au-Prince hoping to get a seat onboard the return flight to Chicago. Several military planes are transporting evacuees, but the United Airlines jetliner was the only commercial one involved in the process. Many people stood in line for 24 hours for the chance to get out of Haiti.

"They are getting people out, although it is a very time consuming process. This plane I'm on is not full and the reason is the state department couldn't move quickly enough to clear enough people before our place onto tarmac was needed and we needed to get going," said Bradley.

The five security checkpoints where U.S. State Department workers checked for proper visas and other documents caused a bottleneck, forcing the United plane to take off without a full flight. Only 68 adults and 13 children were on the United flight back to Chicago.

"Some of them got on this flight not even know knowing where it was going. Some thought it was just going to Miami. Obviously, they will be in for a shock when they see the weather. The American Red Cross will be there when we land around 10 p.m. tonight to help people who obviously need immediate combinations of accommodations, but many folks I talked to on this plane have relatives across the country and many are U.S. Citizens caught down there who do have a place to go," said ABC7's Ben Bradley earlier in the day from Puerto Rico, where the flight crew stopped to fill up the tank.

One of the United Airlines flight attendants who flew down Wednesday morning is bringing back her niece and nephew. They live in Haiti but will be staying with relatives in the U.S. Those children- ages 9 and 7- were the first to board the plane back to Chicago. And just before take-off, they spotted with huge grins on their faces as they dived into a big bag of chips.

"It was sad leaving her and taking the kids, but it was good to have the kids with me," Zazne Cajuste told ABC7. "She knows the kids are going to be safe with me until she decides what she's going to do."

Bradley said a steady stream of aircraft from across the world were seen flying in and taking off at the airport.

Pallets with supplies could be seen stacked up at the airport. There are reports that those supplies are not making it out to those who need them. A former Marine from Winnetka who met volunteers at the airport said the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is not getting the supplies it needs and people with common medical conditions are getting worse without the basic supplies.

60 relief workers arrive in Haiti on Chicago flight

The 60 relief workers - including paramedics, nurses, Internet and water purification experts - on a United Airlines plane from Chicago arrived in Haiti Wednesday on the first leg of the round trip. The jet was also loaded with bottled water, tents, and other relief supplies.

ABC7's Ben Bradley reported that the United Airlines 757 was the only commercial jetliner on the tarmac at Port-Au-Prince airport late Wednesday morning. All other aircrafts were military at that time.

Click here to hear Ben Bradley's report from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Those who flew United to offer help in Haiti hope they can make a difference- and get the supplies-- 15,000 pounds of bottled water, 300 tents, and communication equipment-- where they are most needed.

"We've got all of our bags filled with IVs and medical supplies. We are heading down to help out with an orphanage and a mission that's being used as a hospital at the moment," said Zak Beck, a former US Army medic from Chicago who was on United flight 9902 Wednesday.

"Certainly watching the news and watching the images and the devastation, gave me an idea of what to expect. But, really and truly, emotionally, I don't know how I'm going to handle it. But I have to be strong," said Philippe Gaspard, Chicago volunteer and UAL agent.

"It's real now, but I'm ready to get set up and get to the hospitals we're suppose to go to," said Seth Teske, a Lakeview resident.

Volunteers on the flight also included a group from San Francisco that will build satellite Internet and communication connections and another group from Louisville who are experts at purifying salt, well, and river water so people can drink it.

"I'm concerned for the people themselves but also just to know that we're there to reassure them that we're there to help them and to help them survive and get through this," said Jim Keagy, water purification expert.

Several Haitian-Americans were also on the plane. They now live in New York and are with Hatian Task Force, a medical volunteer group. Silvie Pierre, a psychiatric nurse, is going to help people cope with loss.

"At this point of time some people have really lost family members and they have lost everything they have. So, they need somebody to talk to them," said Pierre.

"It breaks my heart to see so many people dying from infections and small stuff," said Nathalia Bousquet, Haitian Task Force. "We've volunteered our time. We have no idea how long we're staying. I've taken a leave of absence, anywhere from a week to a year, if necessary."

"I really could not sleep. It bothered me. I really want to help people who are really in need. It's really important for me to do this. It's a peace of mind," said Jasmine Augustin of the Haitian Task Force.

Chicago media team up for Haiti Relief Drive

ABC 7 is joining other media organizations to raise money for Haitian relief.

The Chicago helps Haiti relief drive takes place Thursday, January 21 from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Media outlets will air and print a blitz of public service announcements encouraging people to donate to the American Red Cross. A phone bank will be set up to accept donations