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NEWS | Jan. 29, 2010

A story of hope in Haiti

By Ch. (Capt.) Gary Davidson 316th Wing Chapel chaplain

In the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake, a hopeful story emerged from the ravaged country. The story involves two heroic sisters, government officials and politicians, medical crews and the U.S. military.

The two American sisters, Jamie McMutrie and her younger sister, Allison, had been volunteering for years at one of Haiti's orphanages in Port-Au-Prince. While driving to a local market, the two sisters heard an enormous explosion and saw the roadway ripple in waves while surrounding buildings and homes collapsed. Racing back to the orphanage, the sisters discovered the building was in shambles. Braving the elements while defending against possible looters and rioters, the sisters stayed with the children in the orphanage's yard with little food and no drinkable water.

Through e-mail messages, the sisters frantically sent pleas for help that reached levels as high as the White House and State Department. Word also reached Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) who coordinated with governmental agencies and the U.S. military for a rescue flight to Haiti. In addition to the politicians, three medical crews and the sisters' parents boarded the anonymously-funded charter jet.

The plane touched down in Haiti the next day while the passengers spent the next six and a half hours trying to convince U.S. and Haitian officials to let all 54 orphans leave. The initial response was "no," only 47 of the kids with pre-approved adoptive families could go. The two sisters flatly refused to leave without any of the children stating: "We [are] a family ... who love ... and care about each other, and to be asked to leave without a single one of them - was just not an option, it just wasn't an option."

Some last minute political maneuvering and a reprieve by government officials paved the way for all 54 orphans to leave. A snafu occurred, though, when the chartered plane was forced to depart early due to insufficient space on the tarmac. An Army major named Miller, in addition to Air Force officials, immediately stepped in and provided a C-17 for the flight. The C-17 Air Force crew was later quoted as saying they "never saw cargo like that before in their lives." Ironically, one of the orphans, a two-year old named Emma, wasn't on the plane, as she lay fast asleep on the bus that delivered the children to the airport. Jamie McMurtie wouldn't leave until she found the missing child, and upon discovering her, took a follow-up flight the next day.

At a press conference held afterwards in her home state of Pennsylvania, Jamie McMurtie talked about the children and the harrowing tale to save them. She concluded her remarks by saying, "I'm just really happy to be here, and I'm so thankful to everybody - all I can say is, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.'"