January 14th, 2010
03:37 PM ET

Air traffic jam holds up efforts to get into Haiti

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

Right now I’m at a Florida airport with doctors from the University of Miami who are trying to fly into Haiti to rescue the critically ill and bring them back here for treatment. It’s been a frustrating day for this group. The doctors and I and my crew – CNN Medical Producer John Bonifield and CNN Photojournalist Ferre Dollar - were supposed to leave on a 10 a.m. flight to Haiti, but we still haven’t left yet. Just got off the telephone with Laura Brown at the Federal Aviation Administration, who explained why: No more charter flights are allowed to leave from the U.S. for Haiti because there’s such heavy traffic on the ground at the airport in Port au Prince. It’s a one-runway airport with limited ramp space, and Brown tells me 11 flights are circling over Port-au-Prince waiting to land and get aid to the people who need it. So that no more flights take off without a place to land, the FAA decided to do the groundstop in the U.S.

The University of Miami did manage to get a flight out Wednesday night and then another flight out early Thursday morning before the groundstop, bringing back more than a dozen injured people from Haiti. I’ll let you know if we get to take off later today.

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soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Clare Walker

    My goodness, my goodness Dr Gupta is so, so human. To see him care for this 15 day old child on the Street in Haiti and to see how he holds this little infant is heart warming. Dr Gupta so you know, you are well loved in Canada as well. Love ya for your compassion for these dear citizens of Haiti. Regards Clare

    January 14, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Alan Sherman

    Fly in to Santo Domingo and use the helicopters from the Carl Vincent to ferry people and supplies into the soccer stadiums in Haiti.

    January 14, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jose Garcia

    why dont they just fly to the Dominican Republic and drive to Haiti, It will save more time than waiting days to get over there.
    thats what the military is doing they will be fliying to the Dominican Republic.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rosi Arroyo

    I live in Puerto Rico, There are good Airports where you can arrive there is a Ferry leaving I think tomorrow with help for Port o Prince,they are doing this for free and it only takes some hours.Their phone # is 787-640-8144. hope this might be of some help

    January 14, 2010 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. FedUp2

    Where are our armed forces and all their supposed abilities to get things done, in moving these people? If we can constantly mobilize major military operations to go kill our claimed enemies, why can't we use those resources to save our friends and neighbors? Cruise ships, that always helped companies get richer and serve the upper classes without really helping the people of Haiti much, could be used as floating hospitals while helicopters could transport victims, doctors, and rescue workers. Marine landing crafts and all terrain vehicles should be swarming the island shores in a real effort to save lives.
    Thousands lie dying under rubble while news agencies make pleas for more free ireporter content, push images of their celebrities with babies, and then unsympathetically give airtime to experts that warned of all this.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Guri Singh

    Thanks for helping the less fortunate and those that are hurt.
    It is amazing to see how everyone is coming to together to help.

    safe journey,

    January 14, 2010 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Gloria Thompson

    Why not take a boat? Remember many Haitians tried to come into this country by boat – why do a flotilla to Haiti? Americans are known for being creative especially reporters.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Byron

    Thanks for your willingness to help in this time and place of great need. It is indeed a challenge of magnitude proportions. I'm praying for you aid workers and volunteers as well as the Haitians.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. regertz

    Does sound like the DR is the best way in now. Are the roads too blocked to make flying in and driving from there an option? Even so, copters could move in from the DR airports until heavy equipment comes in to clear roads.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Robinhoodlum

    Couldn't the military cargo flights do some air-drops so they don't have to land? Secure an open area, and secure it to protect the supplies as they land.

    January 14, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Chris Rosinski

    Wow. Kudos to the University of Miami. You are making a difference to each one you help and are an inspiration to us all. What about using one of our military ships which already have landing strips built onto them to help out with the landing and takeoff situation, like a portable airport. That should alleviate the backup at Haiti's airstrip.

    January 14, 2010 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Don Schrampfer

    It does not make sense to land planes, unload pallets of survival items and then try to dispurse via ground vehicles. Use military aircraft with rear cargo doors, to air drop thousands of small survival packages with small parachutes attached. Sounds crazy, but nothing else will work in this situation. You could criss cross the area in a pattern that would cover the area evenly. This option would eliminate the need to land and unload planes on an already jammed airport. Send in waves of military transports 24/7, to get survival packages in the hands of people in the streets ASAP. An MRE and a bottle would be all you would need for the survival package. This would stem the tide until more items reach the population via ground transport. This strategy should be considered for all future disasters. Why wait 3, 4, 5 days for a bottle of water? Air drop!!

    January 14, 2010 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Larry

    It's hard to feel bad for news correspondents unable to get into Haiti to cover the big story. The limited space and resources of the airports must be dedicated to search and rescue and other humanitarian efforts first.

    January 14, 2010 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sandra

    I can't be but overwhelmed at the feeling of pride I experience when I see people from different countries and from different walks of life coming together to help their fellowman. It takes a tragedy like this to remind us that we're not so different from each other after all... we care, we sympathize, we want to help, we want to give solace, we want to make things better... we are human beings.

    Then the question arises of what prevents us from coexisting on this planet in a peaceful and loving manner? Who builds the walls that separate us - both physically and mentally? What makes us hate those we don't even know? What makes us go to war and kill each other? There are no warm, fuzzy feelings in negative behavior, yet an earthquake of this magnitude with its thousands of dead and suffering, can bring us all together and fill us with love and compassion for each other. This is as it should be.

    January 14, 2010 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Paul

    Unfortunately the airport and the recovery effort as a result, is suffering from terrible mismanagement. Supplies are being flooded in with no-one to distribute them, Rescue workers from Britain and other countries are having their flights, which could be in and out in 20 minutes, turned back to the Dominican Republic and diverted. The US military thinks that as long as they have a few American search teams in, they can give up getting essential personnel into Haiti. I've arranged 7 different flights today for British rescue teams with valuable equipment and dogs from Sant Domingo. So far one, the one on the smallest aircraft, has been allowed to land.

    It might look like the reaction is going better than Katrina, but it's just another US-lead mess. Incompetence, self importance and beaurocracy at its' finest.

    January 14, 2010 at 21:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. R. O.

    There is only one runway and only so many planes can land at a time. Having the back log in Florida is a good idea – as soon as planes leave more can quickly be on their way.

    It is an 8 hr mountainous drive from the Dominican to Port-au-Prince, the port is heavily damaged. Many of the smaller airports can not handle the large planes. Its frustrating, but I believe that everything that can be done is being done as fast as humanly possible.

    January 14, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Marvin Steinberg

    CNN apparently arrived in Porto Prince soon after the initial earthquake, when the airport was supposedly not operable. Why couldn't the U.S. government and private relief agencies have brought in some medical professionals and some medical supplies in the same way?! At the very least, a few helicopters could have hovered over the areas where people were still able to be treated and lowered basic medical supplies. There would seem to have been several other routes for at least some medical personnel and a substantial amount of basic medical supplies (e.g., antibiotics) to have gotten through via the Dominican Republic, smaller boats, etc. If this is our country's fastest and best effort in the first 2 days of a massive tragedy relatively close to our mainland, I'm sure the people of the Virgin Islands - St. John, St. Croix and St. George - unincorporated territories of the United States, are worried about what would happen if a major earthquake struck their islands. They may have already been wondering the same thing during the Katrina debacle. We have a passing grade on "recovery" but are lacking in "rescue". How is it that we could save Berlin over 50 years ago (with no land or water access possible), but we can't get to Haiti at the most important time?

    January 15, 2010 at 03:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    Now thats nice, Docs willing to travel over there and supply their expertise for the ill, now that I like. Hopefully Psyche Docs as well.

    But I can only imagine how such a catastrophe is handled. Is not like people in general train for these kinds of situations, they are very different.

    I don't know but I was always told to fix your future, look at your past and adapt them to any obstacle that may come in similar doses. That's what I've been always told.

    As long people are trying and since the Media is making news coverage about it, it will stay long for a while.

    God Bless Doc, watch yourself.

    January 15, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Rich

    I think air dropping small packages of food & supplies over a wide area would not result in rioting. It was done in Kosovo and its called fluttering.

    January 17, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jens Dethmer

    When talking of flying into the Haittian aieport it musr be taken inton consideration that:

    1) only one runway
    2) no taxiways from the runway ends to the parking area
    3) only a narrow taxiway between the middle of the runway to the middle of the parking area.
    4) Thus all arriving and departing aircraft have to taxi half of the runway to reach the narrow taxiway (bottleneck) in th middle to get to/from the parking.

    No wonder that the Air Force terms it "limited capacity"
    You just don't get off from somewhere and expect that there is capacity lo land at Haiti airport..

    January 17, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Buzz

    FedUp2, your frustration with this situation is palpable, I TOO feel it. However, Haiti is still a sovereign country and whether or not we Americans like it, they have the right to restrict our military's movements on both the ground and in the air-which HAITI has done, per CNN. Being an Emergency Manager in US gov't service, these situations are even more distasteful to me, however, many resources are enroute to the scene.
    I can assure you that the military members, at least in the Navy, are clamoring to get into the action to save Haitian lives and mitigate the losses and damage. Going off to war is what they are ordered to do by politicians, but helping your fellow man is much more rewarding.

    The air drops can and have caused rioting, with the weaker people being trampled, many times to death.

    Dan, I am betting your air drop answer WILL be used soon, but it too presents its own problems. However, I don't think the forces have a choice but to air drops to complete this long-term sustainment mission.

    Good luck to ALL, God Bless

    January 18, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. K Smith

    Elizabeth Cohen thank you for the story on the mother trying (and Did) save her daughter.

    January 22, 2010 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Virginia Amann

    Elizabeth Cohen, Thank you for your reporting!

    January 22, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. mariella

    Hello, I'm writting to you today
    because of the extreme pain I feel for the people in Haiti. I've been moved by the terrible images of men, women and children suffering every minute. I'm also moved by the generosity of the USA of donating millions in a weeks time. Aprox. 300 million for the Red Cross, aprox. 8.9 million for Larry King Live, aprox. 57 million in the recent Help Haiti now telethon. And I can't help but see everyday that there's so many people still begging and saying how noone is helping them, old people in centers with no food, babies in a truck together in a small place, hot without formula, people with anger because there's still no basic medicine reaching them. So my honest question is: Where are all the millions really going? a million can go very far in a small country like Haiti, so imagine what 300 plus million –already donated for Haiti, reported in the news– can do? Please investigate this, I'm very concerned and worried that help is not reaching the Haiti people yet, and to me that is ridiculus. Please ask this big agencies to give a full report on what the money has been used for, receipts, anything you can get. Because to me more than a week later no person should be without.
    Sincerely a wife and mother of 7,

    January 24, 2010 at 02:08 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.