Dr. McG's Haiti Chronicles

Immediately following the Haiti earthquake, COPAn Dave Hlebichuk posted on the member forums an email from Bahamas Habitat, listing ways in which private pilots could help. Item 1 in this list was “aircraft owners can volunteer to make flight missions”.

Dr. Dick “McG” McGlaughlin flew in with a Cirrus full of medical supplies because he “couldn’t stand to hear one more thing on the TV”. His first (short) report from ground zero said, “Everybody should come here- a great ameliorative for feeling put upon.” Interesting that McG ended up taking his own advice to heart. He has since flown his Cirrus to serve in Haiti more or less on a once-monthly basis.

Since his recent chute pull, there has been interest in McG’s work in Haiti. Some of you may have missed his colorful reports among the high volume of COPA forum posts. I’ve brought them together in this post.

Warning: some of the pictures are disturbingly graphic. This is not the thread to have little kids peering over your shoulder.

Available to COPA members (join here!):

1/24/10 Stuff I wish I had in Haiti right now

1/30/10 McGlaughlin/COPA contributions for Haiti

5/30/10 Haiti - Round 3

9/11/10 Haiti - Round 4

Available to member and non-member alike:

11/25/10 Haiti Round 5

1/31/11 Haiti, Round 6: Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

2/27/11 Haiti, Round 7: Cholera lab

5/8/11 Night shift - what else they have

5/8/11 Checklist problem

6/1/11 GI lab

7/10/11 Bezenet’s dead

10/11/11 Cholera at 1

My favorite picture from the series, below.

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Great summary Sanjay!! I hope one to have the pleasure to meet the man personally!

Hi Sanjay,

I feel like I already know you; Dick has talked about you alot and I have read some of your posts. Thanks for pulling all of his

Haiti stories together in one place. Ging McGlaughlin (Dick’s wife, Elaine’s mom)

Dear COPA:

My dad let me know that several of you have expressed interest in hearing about my version of Saturday’s events. Below is a slightly altered version of the email I sent my closest friends on Saturday evening once my dad and I had arrived safely to the hotel in Nassau.

I also want to thank you for this online community that he so enjoys and for having been passionate enough about airplanes and their accessories to afford him the dialogue and information that probably helped save our lives this weekend.


I’m writing this email from the Sheraton hotel in Nassau, after one of the most exhilarating days of my life. My dad and I took off from the smaller Tamiami-Executive Airport this morning, en route to Haiti after picking up his plane from a couple weeks of routine annual maintenance. I had bought a shiny new digital camera for the trip that morning, and was hungrily reading through the owner’s manual (something I never do) when I heard my dad speak into the headset, calling out to the nearest air traffic controllers that he planned to do an emergency descent because of an unexpected drop in oil pressure.

I thought that was kind of weird, but was mostly interested in organizing my granola bars and putting my travel sunscreen into MY backpack instead of his, and figured that if anything was really going on we would calmly make an unplanned landing on some dusty runway in the Bahamas, fix whatever was going on with the oil pressure, and be on our way. Then my dad’s voice became a little more pressured, and I noticed his hands were shaking. He declared an emergency/mayday landing, and started calling in our information, altitude, and describing where we were in relation to the nearest Bahamas island, which was visible. I looked at the oil pressure gauge and it was teetering around 11- he later told me that roughly 50 is a normal number for that measure. When it dropped below 10 the numbers turned bright red on the screen, which is never a good sign. Below us was fluorescent blue, crystal-like water. My dad told me to tighten my seatbelt low around my hips, which I did, much more nervous at this point. He told me he was going to release the parachute when we dropped to 2000 feet, which was standard protocol, and to PLEASE tighten my seatbelt as much as I possibly could. We could see land, but at around 8 or 9 on the oil gauge the engine seized completely and sputtered to a stop. Seeing the propeller stopped cold, completely motionless, right on the front of the plane in the middle of the sky was bewildering to say the very least.

My dad was obviously spooked, but mostly composed, adjusting whichever controls would respond at that point and continuing to communicate with air traffic controllers in various locations. They asked how many “souls” were on board, and I thought to myself that that particular word choice was decidedly morbid for a moment like this. As my dad’s voice became more gravelly, I sensed in him and began to feel myself what I now have the time and luxury to recognize as dread. Dread is sticky, humid; it fills the air and waits heavily, knowing and fearing, hating to have to know, but knowing all the same.

What I can remember of the time between when his voice got crackly and when he pulled the parachute is that I tried to sit very still, breathe slowly, and funnel encouraging thoughts towards my dad (or at least not get in the way in the meantime). I had a very strong feeling of not wanting to go through what was about to happen, but also of understanding, as time ticked quickly by and the oil pressure slid downward, that any other less awful potential outcomes were rapidly fading from the realm of reality. I was mostly calm, I think, resigned to having to experience what was to come, and grimly confident in my dad’s ability and determination to see us through as best he could.

The air traffic controllers told us that the U.S. Coast Guard had been notified, and that we were four minutes from land. Four minutes was about three minutes too far, because we sank to 2200 feet at what looked to be a mile off shore, and my dad decided to pull the parachute. BOOM! We shot forward, I hit my head pretty hard on the dashboard-- the energy of the parachute rocketing out the back of the plane caused us to pitch forward, and all of a sudden we were stopped still, dangling it seemed, looking straight down at so much flash-blue water. Just as quickly as it had careened over, the plane righted itself, the parachute slider doing its job, working the larger overarching parachute upright into the sky. Then we floated downwards, somewhat slowly, and hit the water HARD, a big firm collision right up your spine and down, but before I knew it water was rushing in EVERYwhere, and I couldn’t get my door open and whoa that water was pretty cold, aren’t we in the damn Caribbean here anyway?

So my dad pulled off my seatbelt and yanked me out of my seat and out his door, which had opened successfully, and we were both okay, pretty panicky, breathing fast, out into the water. He had one of those neat self-inflating rafts, which certainly did its job, albeit so quickly that it turned out to be upside down once we got ourselves onto it, but no matter, it was quite sturdy and that water was colder than I had expected. We were soaked, giddy with adrenaline and the sheer gratitude that comes with survival I suppose, and in absolute awe of this gigantic orange and white parachute that was still billowing calmly on the water, fully inflated, just resting there about 70 feet away from us. The plane was about 1/3 in the water, 2/3 out, and all of a sudden I noticed my dad’s wallet bobbing towards me on the raft. And then my backpack, and his passport bag. A grocery bag of those silly granola bars, two oranges, a couple water bottles. I swam around a bit, collecting whatever was reachable, then got out of the water and tried to stay warm. So much stuff is still in that plane, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it back. My dad’s laptop is in there, that camera I just bought, plenty of dollars’ worth of plane equipment, and etc. BUT, it doesn’t matter!! It just doesn’t matter. After about 45 minutes of pulling ourselves into the sun by the ropes of the parachute, staying near the plane but not too near, a Coast Guard plane zoomed into view, and circled around us for the next 45 minutes, until a helicopter came around. I can’t tell you how comforting that circling plane was, even though it didn’t do anything beyond that. Talk about true moral support. After the helicopter blew the parachute far away enough from us that it wouldn’t pick up the plane and potentially wreck the whole rescue operation, they lowered a rescue swimmer (Chris Ensley, one of my new heroes) down into the water, complete with snorkel and flippers. He swam over to us on the raft, asked how many people had been in the plane and if anyone was seriously injured, and then put me in a lifeguard’s headlock of sorts and swam me back to the helicopter, directly underneath it, where they had lowered a weird kind of human basket/cage to hoist me up. I was freezing, pretty freaked out, and really grateful for the U.S. Coast Guard. He went back to my dad on the raft, did the same thing, and then suited us up with a giant wool blanket, the kind you always see survivors of anything on TV wearing. We coptered it back to the nearest island, which was this one-- Nassau of the Bahamas, and tried to figure out what in the world we were supposed to do from there.

I am SO GRATEFUL for each and every one of you in my life, and for my life! The street signs here in Nassau, where you would see a YIELD sign in the States, say GIVE WAY. I don’t know why, but that spoke to me this evening as we were checking in to the hotel. I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.

With gratitude and affection!


Elaine McGlaughlin

Elaine,

Congratulations and thanks for sharing your experience. I am curious about a few things if you don’t mind.

  1. You mention you were “cold.” Were you to the point of shivering at any time while you were on the raft?

  2. It appears in the video that you were holding on to the PLB. Is that correct? In any case, do you happen tor recall what make or model of PLB it was? Typically the manufacturer’s name will be in the front.

Thanks again,

Elaine
Your dad is one amazing aviator! Having 2 young daughters myself I can only hope to perform as well in a emergency situation like the one you experienced.
Thank you for sharing this story

Dear Elaine,

As you’ve probably figured out by now, the COPA community, although large and growing, is still in many ways a family and your Dad is one of our most important and beloved members. Thank you so much for posting your wonderful letter.

Dick and I have shared a few laughs over our strict Catholic upbringing, complete with stern nuns. I’m now a very “fallen away” Catholic with little or no religious beliefs. There are times and events however, like this episode, that are just so perfect that I know it was somehow planned.

Dick is a respected and listened-to member of COPA. He–and now we see that you too–have a gift for communicating and especially writing. Who better to successfully deploy that " gigantic orange and white parachute" and show us all the way.

As a Dad of two teenage boys, I shuddered involuntarily when I read the line in your letter where you tell us that–even after seeing his hands shake–you were “grimly confident in my dad’s ability and determination to see us through as best he could.” We Dads have felt the weight of that trust and confidence on our shoulders when the kids were young and we were Superman. But you’re now 25, well educated, have “seen some things”, and know your Dad to be what he is: another guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Yet, through his commitment and dedication, he still inspires that kind of confidence. That most eloquently expresses what many of us, through our participation in this forum, seek to achieve and maintain during our flying years and beyond.

Thanks again for sharing,

Sincerely,

Pierre Redmond

Elaine,

Well, I would sure like to hear about the others [;)]

Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

Wow Elaine, I had no idea you would have inherited your Dad’s eloquence to the degree you have.

About a year ago my son Brad (then 23) and I met up with your dad in Birmingham. Along with your dad and your sister we flew two planes packed with supplies to Haiti. After we returned, Brad’s mom was looking for feedback on how things went. “Well” said Brad, “we saw some amazing things. But Dr. Mac is absolutely the coolest guy I have ever met in my life.”

I later shared Brad’s comment with your dad. We talked about how differently we can be perceived by the kids of others compared to our own children. I hope you realize now, or come to realize, that your dad is absolutely one of the coolest guys you are ever likely to meet.

Here is a little story. Not even your dad knows the ending. At the time of the Haiti trip, Brad had gone through four extremely difficult college years of one step forward and two steps back. Trials and turmoil for him and our entire family. A year ago he got everything straightened out and proved to himself (and us) that he was more than up to the challenge. He reapplied to George Washington Univ. and this morning he left to go back there and finish up. He will do great. But here is the previously-undisclosed ending: Last night, he was musing about exactly “when” he straightened out and started to see himself and his future clearly. He said he had thought hard about that and clearly it was the Haiti trip. It was the fact that I took him even though things were strained between us, seeing the things he saw and (most of all) talking to your dad and seeing him in action.

I am sure you are relieved. You should be proud too. This experience, as harrowing as it was, has made your life broader and richer. I hope it also strengthens the already-good bond between you and the Superman that is your father.

With that, you have somewhat restored my flagging confidence that today’s youth can formulate a coherent sentence. Beautifully put. You have my gratitude and affection right back at you!

Ging,

Thank you for your gracious note. It was remarkable to go over these COPA forum posts and pictures. Two years after the disaster that triggered Dick’s trips, they retain such urgency. I bet that - chute pull celebrity or not - his ongoing dedication has incurred significant costs on the home front. Many Haitians owe you and your family a great debt of gratitude.

Now, it’s regrettable that, in part due to sequelae of Elaine’s lovely write-up, your husband may well become entirely insufferable. (I have read that Mohandas Gandhi was no picnic to live with.) If you need help reminding Dick that you knew him when, there’s more gold in them thar hills.

That sentence had the same effect on me, Gordon! (Though I found it more ominously evocative than “beautiful.”)

As long as I’m engaging in literary criticism without a license [8-|], your “Give Way” sensibility was truly poignant (and beautiful). Thank you, Elaine.

Agreed. Very well written. Give that young lady a writing job!

I think that this post deserves a bump back up to the front for those who may have missed it. Not only does Sanjay’s collection highlight a place that is still very much in need of help that we can provide, but it also has Elaine’s excellent and eloquent retelling of her experience as a passenger. If this short post wasn’t worth the 65 bucks it takes to be a COPAn, then I don’t know what is.

Are we going to get to see that video of Dr. McGlaughlin’s speech at M10 here on the COPA site? I was flying our booth out on the trade show floor and was quite sad to have missed it.

Another thing that people may have missed but is definitely worth the read is this piece on Rick’s blog: http://www.cirruspilots.org/blogs/pull_early_pull_often/archive/2012/01/09/early-reflections-on-caps-pull-32-by-dick-mcglaughlin-in-the-bahamas.aspx

Safe flying and Pull Early, Pull Often!

-John

Yes. Working on it.

Turns out that the webcasting service failed to capture much of both M10 Safety Keynote talks, mine on Cirrus Safety Review and Dick’s on his Haiti work and CAPS pull. So COPA began an effort to distribute both talks. Expect a DVD in your next copy of Cirrus Pilot magazine.

As for online access … see this thread: Online access to M10 safety keynote talks – coming

Cheers
Rick