Haiti, the iPhone and airplane guidance: A true story

I had dinner with my cousin, a plastic surgeon.  He is a very friendly and warm person and donated his time to help operate on Haiti’s earthquake victims.  He participated with a charitable organization called Operation Smile.  At the time of his trip, Operation Smile had two sites in Haiti, my cousin’s was in Fond Parisien, a 7 hour bus ride from the Dominican Republic while the other was in Hinche, a 12 hour bus ride.  The actor Harrison Ford is involved with the charity and agreed to fly the team to Hinche from the Dominican Republic, and this is where the iPhone comes in.

The medical team boarded Ford’s plane and flew to the GPS coordinates of Hinche.  One of the doctor’s had been to Hinche before and was familiar with the location and topography.  The plane arrived at the coordinates and was unable to find Hinche airport.  The doctor looked out the Window and told the pilots that he did not recognize the area.  They kept circling and then headed towards a nearby airport to reconfirm the coordinates.  The tower provided the same GPS information and so the plane flew back to the same location and was still unable to find the airport.  Clearly the frustration was growing in the aircraft.

At this point an anthesiologist sitting in the rear of the aircraft decided to take matters into his own hands.  He pulled out his iPhone and loaded Google maps and set Hinche as the destination.  Amazingly, the phone had a GPS signal and the application clearly indicated the direction and distance to the town.  He promptly provided the detailed information to the pilots who used it to fly to the airport and land safely.  It is amazing that a simple iPhone application can make such a difference.  Of course, things were extremely hectic in Haiti and so it is not that surprising tht Hinche coordinates were initially wrong.  Thanks to an iPhone and Google Maps, the flight was able to arrive at its destination and the doctors were able to help hundreds of earthquake victims.

First and foremost, this blog post is a tribute to those people like my cousin who have dedicated countless hours helping the Haiti earthquake victims.  It is a terrible tragedy.  It is also an amazing tribute to the power of the iPhone and its applications.  Who would have thought that a simple PDA could play such an critical role in guiding the Harrison Ford’s aircraft to its destination.

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