Monday, January 18, 2010

Pittsburgh Flight to Haiti : Reporter's Notes

[UPDATE: You can read Burgher Jon's question about Monday's BRESMA coverage and my response here in the comments thread of this blog post.]

Raw notes aren't pretty... but here are my raw notes on the latest developments, followed by a statement from former US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan (via Bram of the Pittsburgh Comet). I'll have a report on Channel 4 Action News at Five.


Governor's press secretary Gary Tuma confirms that Governor Ed Rendell is among the officials on the flight to Haiti. At 3:17pm he said that the plane touched down in Miami "about ten minutes ago" and should be taking off within 45 minutes of that touchdown. It's next stop: Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

If all goes smoothly, they hope to pick up 61 of the children from the BRESMA orphanage at the airport here and return to Pittsburgh at 11pm or 12 midnight, by way of Miami. Tuma says that they don't know if things will go smoothly..and that the return to Pittsburgh could come later, if they do not.

He says some of the 150 children from the orphanage will be going to the French or the Dutch.

61 will be coming to Pittsburgh.

41 have adoptions "in the pipeline".

The 61 will first go to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh for evaluation. Catholic Charities will be involved in caring for their needs while they are here.

Tuma says that relatives of the two sisters had contacted UPMC, and that UPMC contacted the governor. Saturday and Sunday, arrangements were made. There was contact with the Haitian ambassador, the Pentagon, and Homeland Security officials to get clearance for the mission. Republic Air provided the plane, which also carries medical personnel and nurses.

Tuma says many officials -- including the Haitian ambassador in particular -- advised that it would be helpful if Governor Rendell were personally on the plane. Tuma says the Haitian ambassador believed that Governor Rendell's presence might provide strengthen their efforts, in case there was any trouble on the ground in Haiti.

Statement from Mary Beth Buchanan on the events of today:

"I had little prior knowledge of the attempted air rescue mission that departed from Pittsburgh today, though I have since been advised that some of the resources aboard the flight were collected through the efforts of myself and others. Now that it is underway I am hopeful for the best, and continue to pray for the safety of young Jamie and Ali, this group of Haitian orphans and all of the people suffering in Haiti."

Sent from my mobile device


Burgher Jon said...

I had noted the lack of any mention nationally or locally of MBB, Virginia or Bram. Do you have any speculation why they would be left out?

Was the effort of the governor truly seperate? The result of a call for help directly from the McCultrie's to the governor?

Bob Mayo said...

Burgher Jon, I can't speak for other reporters, but I know that by necessity my TV stories on Monday focused on the breaking news of the flight and it's status, not the back story of the efforts of the previous days.

I quoted Mary Beth Buchanan's statement -- which Bram e-mailed on her behalf -- in the live close to my 6pm story on Monday. Earlier that day, I'd tried to arrange to interview Buchanan, e-mailing her that morning. She e-mailed back that she would call me shortly but she didn't do so, despite my followup attempt to reach her. Her written statement to all media followed later in the afternoon.

Congressman Altmire's aide Tess Mullen was tightlipped throughout the day. In response to my repeated e-mails and calls Monday morning, she would say only -- in general terms -- that the congressman was working on the issue of helping the orphans. She refused to confirm or comment on the existence of any flight to Haiti, even in the face of reports that Altmire was sighted at Pittsburgh International Airport.

All Monday morning and through most of that afternoon, Rendell's press secretary Gary Tuma and UPMC's VP of public relations Paul Wood each refused comment and would not confirm the flight. Tuma's eventual confirmation did not come until 3:17pm Monday and is detailed in my post here. At that point it was the only official word on the existence of the flight and became the primary source for details.

My first confimation of the flight came not from government sources, but from people connected with the medical personnel on board. Virginia's most recent blogs posts and her tweets at the time on Monday made clear she was choosing -- apparently by necessity or by request -- to be off the radar for the story of the flight in progress.

I think the statement from the McMutrie family that Virginia released on their behalf late last night addresses their view of the dovetailing of efforts on their behalf. I hope this answers your questions. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.