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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

THERE I WUZ! GONE WITH THE HURRICANE

11/8/13 UPDATE: RED CROSS DONATION LINK FOR VICTIMS OF PHILIPPINES SUPER TYPHOON HAIYAN VICTIMS COMING ASAP!

HELP VICTIMS OF HURRICANE SANDY! 
Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to automatically donate $10!


Hurricane Sandy, satellite, NASA
A snapshot of Sandy, Oct 29, 2012 


*Note:  I wrote and scheduled this post prior to Hurricane Sandy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.

I wrote most of this story shortly after experiencing Hurricane Hugo back in '88, and in no way want to detract from the many hardships and sufferings still being experienced by survivors and victims of other Hurricanes such as Sandy, Katrina and Ivan.  This is merely my story.

I'm sure readers on the East Coast of the U.S. are SICK AND TIRED of all things Hurricane, so for that I apologize!  But by the same token, I hope the rest of the "uninitiated" world will learn something here about living through a hurricane, and also about the madness, mayhem and lawlessness that follows...

PART I:  THE EVACUATION

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
—BEFORE—
Evacuation 1.  Note the telltale washboard swells of the approaching hurricane.*

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
—AFTER—
All hail the great god Hugo!
The sole surviving art piece from a multimillion dollar home.

*Hugo: there never was a hurricane more aptly named.  It sounded like the neighborhood bully; a Hubert or Harold just wouldn't have cut it.  And on September 16, 1989, Hugo, the bastard son of Mother Nature, picked a fight with my little airline.


Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
—BEFORE—
The gorgeous Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle Grumman Mallard.
Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines

I was flying for the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle out of St.  Croix, USVI.  We were a modest but intrepid outfit in the spirit of the isles we served.  



Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
—BEFORE—
Cap'n Aux enroute to SJU (San Juan, PR)

With five Grumman Mallard amphibian seaplanes and two land-based deHavilland Twin Otters, we ferried gawking tourists and locals alike over the turquoise waters, pristine coral reefs and lush jungles of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.



Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Hey, Miss TWA: Can you guess who Cap'n Aux's
FIRST Captain gig was for?!

Yes, it was a job in paradise.

But it was about to become, "Paradise Lost."
—BEFORE—
Our Idyllic life was about to be turned upside down...

For much of the year, the Caribbean pilot can forecast weather as deftly as the seasoned meteorologist: mostly sunny, isolated showers, light easterly breeze, temperature upper seventies.



This weather station woulda worked well on our lovely island...
until the coconut flew away!

But during hurricane season, the climate undergoes an evil, Jekyll-and-Hyde metamorphosis.  



Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Cap'n Aux greets Mom and Dad, along with FO Mike.
Waves of weather, borne in the mid-Atlantic, sweep through the Antilles like the hands of a clock--and just as regularly.


Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
FO Terry (a regular reader of this blog)
during a night run to STT (St. Thomas)

These fronts build momentum, sucking up moisture and energy from the warm Caribbean waters.  Some of these systems hatch tropical storms; often they grow into hurricanes.



Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
—BEFORE—
Cap'n Aux savors his first real Captain's seat, in the 19-pax Twin Otter (complete with '80 hair and '70's mustache!)
So it is, during this season, that the Caribbean pilot suspiciously eyes each wave of weather, anxiously chews his lip as winds build to hurricane speed, then frantically plots its westward course as it plows across the seas.  


Cap'n Aux gets 'artsy' on the isle of St. John

If the storm veers homeward, the evacuation begins.


"F/O" Julia takes a joyride to St. John in a Mallard...

Such was the case with the season of 1989.  The enemy advanced, our forces retreated.  We evacuated the humble fleet to PSY (Ponce, Puerto Rico.) As copilot Mike and I flew our Twin Otter across the Caribbean Sea, clouds rushed in at record speed.  Thunderstorms popped up like acne on a teen.  Below us a washboard of rhythmic ocean swells stretched to the horizon, warning of the approaching storm.  We landed, lashed down the planes and took refuge in a nearby hotel.  Our troops silently searched the skies for the Blitzkrieg.



—BEFORE—
Enroute to PSY...
It never came.  We soon lost interest and headed for the officers' club (a local cantina.) The only damage sustained on that outing was a few rum hangovers; the only hurricane present was the one pounding in our heads. 
PSY: A DC-3 basks in a gorgeous rainbow left in the wake of a passing hurricane...
So much for the storm preceding the Main Event.



Hugo came out to play.
We again evacuated, this time to San Juan.  But only three planes were flyable at the time; the others were down for maintenance.  What the heck, we figured, too much trouble to put them back together.  The boy cried wolf last time, it'd probably be the same with Hugo.  We'll take a chance.  And shucks, the last time a major hurricane hit St.  Croix was way back in 1928, right?


We flew above the ocean at 4,000 feet, and again saw the telltale washboard swells.  They radiated like waves from a stone dropped in water.  But this stone was two hundred miles wide.


Again we evacuated.  Again the telltale washboard ocean swells.
We stuffed the planes into a giant, three-story hangar at SJU (San Juan International Airport.) One drawback: no hangar door.  If the hurricane did indeed hit, and the winds blew from the south, the whole building—and its contents—would blow away like Dorothy's house to the land of Oz.  We crossed our fingers.


On approach to SJU.
San Juan Flight Service Station was a bedlam of frantic meteorologists, anxious pilots and noisy reporters.  All crowded in, straining to hear the latest scrap of news on Hugo's progress.  Yes, he would hit.  The Virgin Islands his first target.  STX (Alexander Hamilton Airport, St.  Croix), reported 80mph winds and rising.  Then all contact was lost.
—LEFT BEHIND—
Julia (blue shirt) and some of our crew batten down the hatches on St. Croix.  For three days we didn't know each other's fate...

My guts churned.  All I could do was pray for my girlfriend Julia who, in the last-minute confusion, missed our flight and got left behind on the island to fend for herself.



—LEFT BEHIND—The boys crossing fingers 'n praying the great god Hugo for a successful storm passage...
Hugo slowed, and parked its blistering, 160 mph blender smack on top of St.  Croix.  We scurried to our hotel rooms and battened down the hatches.



The only eye closed that night was Hugo's .  .  .  and it closed in on us.



Remember those lunchtime outings to the airport, sitting under the departure path and listening to the ear-splitting roar of jets overhead?  Well, that's what it sounds like in the middle of a hurricane—for eight solid hours.  And through the din you hear glass shatter, cars crash and tin roofs rip away.  And you pray that your roof isn’t next.
The sleepless night dragged on to morning.  In a feeble attempt at distraction from the onslaught, we played cards.  Being stuck on the ground floor of a hotel only 2 blocks from the beach, our biggest fear was floods and tsunamis.  Mercifully, our ground turned out to be high enough.

Finally, that afternoon, the winds died to a safe speed.  We cautiously emerged, anxious to see how the planes had fared.  All feared the worst.



—AFTER—
Downtown San Juan was a flooded obstacle course of debris.

We drove to the airport, forging knee-deep gully washers and swerving around downed power lines, tumbled trees, battered cars.

—AFTER—
Largely intact, SJU nevertheless suffered some serious damage...
San Juan Luis Munoz Airport was a mess.  Airplanes lay strewn haphazard about the ramp.  In all, 22 aircraft destroyed.  One DC-3 lay inverted atop another plane, its type indistinguishable.  I chewed my nails as we neared the hangar.


—AFTER—
While the hangar was totaled, miraculously the planes inside suffered little damage.
The top two floors were caved in, but otherwise the hangar was largely intact.  Our hopes jumped.  The hurricane, it seemed, had swerved north before reaching San Juan.  Except for a dinged wing tip, our three planes survived.

The next day, Chief Pilot Rudy  deemed it safe enough to take off and scout the ruins of St.  Croix.  All contact was still lost with the entire island.  I feared for Julia's safety.  While she and our friends had hunkered down in a concrete pillbox of a house, I worried that a mudslide would dump them into the ocean.



—AFTER—
The twisted remains of a light twin Piper Aztec.
With no airport info nor weather data for STX, we took off.  We only took the two Mallards, as Rudy figured we could land in the bay if the airport was trashed.

It was a flight I'll never forget.  I gazed out the window at the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen; Hugo's final, sarcastic farewell to the newly orphaned islands.  The photo I snapped of our companion Mallard flying formation is the one that graces this blog page, and remains to this day the most gorgeous photo I’ve ever taken.




As I marveled at the fantastic sight, and contemplated its grim irony, I couldn't help but think that the sun was also setting on our little airline in paradise...


————TO BE CONTINUED————

————————


POSTING 11/21/12:

HUGO, PART 2:  LEFT BEHIND-the Aftermath



"Chaos reigned.  Looting was rampant.  Gunshots rang through the night.   For two weeks, I carried a machete."
—————————————————

*All photos in this post taken by Cap'n Aux or his friends, unless otherwise noted!



...AND A SPECIAL HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO JULIA, MY "COPILOT" IN THIS ADVENTURE!!!


Wiki on Hugo

—A link to a Wall Street article on Storm Damage, for Sandy victims.
—A great Link of Hurricane Sandy photos; thanks, Jim!


18 comments:

  1. What a post, Captain!

    Well, I haven't witnessed any hurricane, sandy, even storm in my life. I should be thankful to God, right !I am :)AllhumduAllah
    It is so amazing to see gal pilot(s) :D
    And yes if you can send that clip (if you can)to me via email, I would love it.If not then no sweet. No idea when they are gonna unblock Youtube.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great to see you here again from http://izdiher.blogspot.com over in Pakistan!!

      I hope things are calming down over there, and I continue to love your posts!!

      I will email you a small version of the vid asap. ;-)

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  2. I just found you blog this morning! Thanks for a great interesting read. My first encounter with a hurricane was Wilma just after we moved to Florida. We didn't get those things in South Africa and after I moved to the US - I only used to see it on TV...

    Not - time to go and catch up with the older posts. Please feel free to drop past my aviation photography blog :)

    Mark

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Welcome aboard, Mark! Your blog at http://amateuravphoto.blogspot.com looks excellent!

      I think you'll find a world of "Aviation Adventure" here. Happy reading!!

      And, Welcome to the States!

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  3. Hey Cappy........'Posting'..even in the 'WakeTurbulence' of Sandy.....is ok....!!!.....and living in South Louisiana.....we had our fair share of hurricane heartache.....with Andrew in 1992, Katrina in 2005, Gustav in 2008.....where Houma took a direct hit......and of course......Old Uncle Isaac this past September.......!!!!.......It's a scary thing....and dangerous....to ever take any storm lightly......!!!!....That is one "Wild" pic of Sandy.....for your opening shot........!!!....and my heart does go out to those....there along Sandy's destructive path......!!!!!!!!!!...when, for many.....the only thing they owned....was the clothes on their back.......and while.....material things.....can be replaced......."HOME" matters.....because it's there...where our "LOVE"....is carried on....with children, family and friends.....!!!!
    Without the "HOME"......we are lost, I think....!!!

    and you sure in the hell.....have some Awesome Pictures here........I Love the DC-3.......Hey GG did ya see the DC-3..????
    but the best is the TWA (Trans world Express).........!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    So.......was it actually affiliated with TWA Airlines.....??????.......
    I kinda like the idea, you started "Sucking up to me"......a loooooong time ago..........LOLOLOL........!!!!
    I remember Hugo.....too, and for some reason.....I was driving home from New Orleans.....and the radio......mentioned that the barometric pressure was the lowest....in history.....something like that.....and it stuck with me........I remember that as vividly as anything....!!
    It seems to me.......many times.......hurricane's have a way of hitting at night....only to have us look at the destruction.....in the harsh morning....after.....It's never good....!!!!!
    and yes, feel....grateful,...for not much loss of life........but really...it's the loss of 'life' as you knew it..............that can be every bit as heartbreaking.....!!!!!!!!!......
    Thank You Cappy......for such a lovely......blast from the past....even in destruction....Ya have no choice, but to rebuild.......!!!!!
    It does break my heart to see your Grumman Mallard tossed about......like a matchstick.........!!!

    and Happy Birhtday to Julia.....as well, from MissTWA......
    PS.....I so agree.....with the picture you took of the sunset after Hugo......flying in formation....with a companion 'mallard'...that shot will always be yours.......
    I like that!!!!!!!
    MissTWA singing off for now............♠

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Wonderful reply, Dear! I don't think I can add much to that...other than, Thank you!!

      I really want to convey here the way Mother Nature upset my life in a matter of hours...and millions affected by other hurricanes (esp. Sandy) as well! It's something hard to imagine if you haven't been through it before.

      The fact that picture is the "most beautiful I've ever taken" only adds to the depth of its meaning when you really contemplate the moment I was in...flying home, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if my home had survived, if my airline still existed...if Julia was even alive!!

      Knowing what we know now, we can appreciate it simply for its aesthetic beauty. But the moment in which it was snapped...was anything but beautiful or simplistic...

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  4. Not so damn fast Cappy.......don't think for one moment.......I'm gonna let that 70's mustache..........'Fly'...........LOL!!!!!!!...
    I just had to say that......OMG.......
    Love it..........!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Cappy........WOW........What a difference....a day makes.....Spring cleaning early....;))))....Love It!!!!!
    I don't care what you change.........Just NEVER EVER......Go away!!!......Its seems...we've lost a few of our 'Aviation blog' buddies lately.....and that 'Worries' me......!!!!
    So consider yourself "WARNED"...........(insert serious smile)

    KK........Funny how you mention on this 'post'.....the picture of you in the 'Captain' seat sporting the 80's hair.....and the 70's "Mustache"......,
    so yesterday I hear on the radio.....that a particular place...has a night called "Boogie nite".........and that anyone with a "Mustache" gets in FREE..........OMG........I thought about you.....shit with that 70's 'stache'.....you'll get a years worth of pass's....LOL.....!!!!
    Remember I'm NOT laughing at you.....I'm laughing 'With' you......!!!!
    don't worry back in the 80's I was a slave to the blowed up beyond belief....... 'perms'......
    and my bangs were straight as nails.....looked ridiculous........;)))))
    Aren't you about to finish a book on "Bush Pilots".......??!!!!and it has nothing to do with the 'bush'.....you were sporting in the 70's Right???????!!!!
    ;)))
    I know that with most Airlines......the "First" bag flies "FREE"..so this 'baggage' will sign off for now.......before I get 'charged'....
    Later Cappy........


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, being as how I'm now the Big 5-0 and still get Carded (just the other day, LOL!), you can imagine how self-conscious I was being a 20-something Captain...trying to look "grown up" with the mustache, LOL!

      Yup! LAST BUSH PILOTS just got uploaded to Amazon...waiting to check the printing galley proof...then...we'll have a Grand ol' RELEASE party here!!!

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  6. Oh Cappy.....It's about time........Dammit!!!!!!!
    those of us, who have been lucky enough to have had, access to your...writing's of,
    "Last of the Bush Pilots"...Love the adventures, of flying both, just below the cloud deck.....and just about......ground level.......!!!!
    It's a wild ride.......either way....and speaking from my 'Heart'.....to my Dear Friend, Captain Eric.......I wish you nothing but all the Success in the world....and then some more........and as us "Aviation Geeks".......are prone to say....in jest........"THE SKIES THE LIMIT"........
    MissTWA.....

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Miss TWA! I'm so glad you loved this story--and the book! I always try to put the reader "there" with me, even in--especially in--my fiction. I'm glad you came along for the ride! :-D

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Awesome story & Awesome Pics! Very impressive!

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    1. Thank you, Kris! I apologize for not thanking you sooner! ;-)

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  9. You truly do not want to mess with mother nature. Tragic yet..you see how everyone bonded together to rebuild, save and move forward. Awesome reminder that WE ALL SURVIVE NO MATTER WHAT!!-->> I get to fly with you--> is PROOF OF THAT!! Your coffee will have to wait..not done with service yet!!! LOL

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree! Thank you for the comment, Mary Mug--and thank you for the coffee! :-D

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  10. Thanks for the story, Cap!

    I remember Hugo, as well. I was on the USS Eisenhower and we had to leave port in Norfolk for safety. We stayed out of the main path, but I've still never felt 95000 tons of ship tossed around so much. A couple weeks after that, I was transferred to a school in Charleston, SC. I had heard of the devastation there and was wondering what I'd encounter as I got there. 60 miles west in I-95, the trees were just pushed over. As I headed down US-17, I could see houses without roofs, I remember seeing an auto mechanic shop missing a wall, but damned if the mechanic wasn't working on a car. The closer I got, the greater the extent of the damage became, but it was also amazing how much the people of Charleston had done in those few short weeks. There was very little that wasn't operating in some fashion. I couldn't have been more impressed by what I saw while I was there.

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    1. Thank you, Chuck C, for your first hand impressions! It's just incredible to hear people's impressions of such catastrophic events. It certainly reminds us to be respectful of Mother Nature's power--and at the same time is a testimony to the human spirit!

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