Chicago-Area Helicopter Crew Helps in Haiti

"Words can't describe the devastation"

By Aixa Velez
|  Friday, Jan 29, 2010  |  Updated 8:42 AM CDT
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A Chicago-area helicopter crew is getting a bird's eye view of the devastation in Haiti -- and what they're seeing isn't pretty.

Midwest Helicopter Airways Chief Pilot Stephen Hollands and his mechanic Jeff Stonebrook are assisting a private medical charity with emergency evacuations from Port-Au-Prince to nearby Dominican Republic hospitals.

The duo typically work construction jobs, but are only too happy to help. But the crew has seen death and destruction at every turn.

“One of the mission they flew, Stonebrook was in the belly with a girl who was badly burned, he said she was in real bad shape, charred from head to toe,” said Jim Triggs, Midwest's assistant chief pilot, who receives one text message update from Hollands and Stonebrook every day because their satellite phones don’t work.

“[Stonebrook] said words could not describe the images that have been burned in his head.”

The Midwest duo left for the Haiti on January 19, five days after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the capitol city of Port-au-Prince. They were the second aircraft crew to arrive in the city.

Stonebrook and Hollands are in a unique position to estimate the devastation. The two flew similar missions when Hurricane Katrina rocked New Orleans in 2005.

“There is no comparison between the two disasters,” Triggs said his crew told him. “The type of devastation that’s in Haiti, it’s just much worse and can’t be compared."

Despite the country's despair, every so often the Midwest team texts back a heartwarming story.

“Our pilot on a mission saw a man that lost all of his belongs and gave the man an extra pair of sneakers he had,” Triggs said.  “The amount of gratitude was priceless.”

The crews' mission may be extended because the situation is so dire, but Triggs says the crew isn't concerned about the length of their stay.

"From the texts we’ve received," Triggs said, "they are just so happy to be able to help.”

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