• CAP Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Recovery Mission Part 2

    Every takeoff from Isla Grande gave us a front row view of downtown San Juan, as we banked left after liftoff and flew through a small gap in the high rise hotels by the beaches. To go east, we followed the north shore of the island until we got to a point abeam the tower at the big airport, and then we were cleared to fly directly over the terminal building, followed by a turn to the east that put us between the two runways' departure paths. This course was held until we neared the light house at Fajardo, from which it was over the blue sea for 20 miles or so to the island of Culebra.

    The departure to the east involved flying right over TJSJ at 2000 feet.

    All of the Antilles are mountainous islands, volcanic in origin, and we had decided to use mountain flying techniques to do our photo runs. When searching mountainous areas, especially at high density altitudes (a condition which did not apply here, fortunately), it is almost always preferable to begin at the highest elevations and work your way downward. Small single engine airplanes rarely have the power to weight ratio to conduct searches or photo runs uphill, if the slope is steep. Here, of course, we had some control over what the slope might be, by choosing our path over the ground. But it would still be better all around to start at the top, and that is what we did.

    We gave the sharks another bite at the apple, cruising low on the way over to Culebra and St Thomas and St John.

    Arriving above Culebra, we circled leftward around the higher points and worked our way down in a spiral pattern. The camera window is located on the left side of just about all of our airplanes, and this dictated the direction of the turns. It also made it easier since the pilot had a good view of the terrain. It took around 25 minutes or so to cover the entire island, which is not too large, and Richard, in the back, was snapping pictures furiously as we flew along. After satisfying himself that the images were of good quality, which is an outstanding benefit of digital photography, Richard cleared us to proceed to St. Thomas.

    Now ATC got involved once again. They had let us do our own thing over Culebra, but of course the small airport there is uncontrolled and there was no traffic during the time we were busy taking our pictures. St. Thomas (TIST), on the other hand, had several airline inbounds by the time we broke off from Culebra, and we had to be vectored away from the approach path for runway 10. We conceived a plan which garnered the approval of ATC -- proceed north of the island and start once again at the highest elevations, circling the high hills first, which would keep us away from the airport and the approach path for awhile. This worked well, and by the time we got around to the west side of the island, where the airport is, all was quiet on the arrivals front. There was a single departure while we were working the area, but it was no problem for us to keep north of his path, a path I knew well since I had flown it myself many times.

    The airport at St Thomas had been reopened for a week or more by the time we got there, but they only had jet fuel and thus were not a potential refueling stop. The blue tarps indicate damaged roofs, and are a common sight after a weather event. FEMA had already been hard at work on St Thomas when they requested this re-shoot.

    Both at Culebra and St. Thomas the situation was much like that on Puerto Rico itself; namely, most buildings relatively intact but just about every tree on the islands a casualty. It was obvious that a lot of work had already been done over on the Virgin Islands, because the few structures that seemed to have lost roofs already had those blue FEMA tarps stretched tight over them. One again there was vehicle traffic on most of the roads, but what there was not was cruise ships. Normally the harbor at Charlotte Amalie is crowded with some of the largest ships in the world, and the town is overflowing with the thousands of tourists each ship disgorges. But on that day, the entire harbor was empty, save for a few container ships.

    Charlotte Amalie, the principal town on St Thomas. Normally, this harbor plays host to giant cruise ships, but not now.

    1. pinkyjr's Avatar
      pinkyjr -
      Photorico scenery makes tshe TJIG scenery where CAP operates from, and a brand new TJAB scenery which features the famous FEMA tarps all over the island.

    1. gene172's Avatar
      gene172 -
      What a great service that this CAP mission provided to the people of Puerto Rico. Americans should be grateful that volunteers like yourself contribute their expertise to our country in this manner. Thank you for contributing this article which presents the mission and the work of the CAP in such vivid detail.

    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Hi Tony, thank you for the fine articles on CAP and your experiences there. Other than the name, I had little idea of what was involved. It made think to look up the Canadian equivalent, CASARA.
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