A group of American missionaries, who had been stuck in Haiti after the recent devastating earthquake there, are back in America thanks to a flight on a plane owned by NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.
The earthquake struck the impoverished island nation last week and the damage has been described as catastrophic. Some estimates put the number of fatalities near 100,000 with as many 2 million homeless.
Hendrick Motorsports loaned two 45-passenger Saab 2000 aircraft, which normally carry crewmembers during the season and two flight crews with additional support personnel to Missionary Flights International.
Jean Kruger of Deerwood Minnesota was one of those who were able to escape the devastation this week on board one of the Hendrick planes.
Krueger has traveled to Haiti every six months over the last several as part of a missionary group working on a construction project at three schools and an orphanage about 25 miles outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Krueger, who normally works as a message therapist, left for Haiti on January 9th with her mother Judy.
Both women were on a bus when the earthquake struck.
“I believe it’s a miracle I’m alive right now,” Kruger told the Brainerd Dispatch. “Our bus was rocking back and forth – it was so scary – and all this chaos happened. The walls around the bus just crumbled down. This 11-12-year-old girl didn’t have her hand anymore, she was bleeding and screaming. People were carrying babies that were bloody in their arms. Everyone was in the street and everyone was screaming.”
The walls around their once secure compound were destroyed so the women along with the rest of the group were forced to hire security and slept outside for fear the damaged buildings might collapse.
Judy Kruger is a licensed practical nurse, and she along with a group of volunteers, went to the United Nations building in Port-au-Prince to help in the rescue efforts while daughter Jean and the rest of the group traveled to the orphanage to check on the children.
“I was crying the whole time,” Kruger told the paper. “There were bodies in the streets. There were people with bones sticking out of their bodies. Our bus driver just kept trying to get us there.”
Kruger told the Dispatch that all the orphans were outside, scared to go inside the orphanage because the walls were cracked and damaged. The walls outside the orphanage and a nearby school were destroyed. A doctor from northern Haiti had hitchhiked her way to Leogane and they helped her set up a makeshift medical clinic to help treat the injured. She said the doctor was performing toe and foot amputations and they only had children’s Tylenol for quake victims to numb the pain.
Kruger and her group were finally rescued thanks to the Hendrick planes, which began arriving late Friday. Kruger said they got a call that the first plane had just landed at an airstrip next to the airport in Port-au-Prince and could take passengers out. Her and her mom along with a group of others rushed to the plane and was able to escape the country.
Along with the aircraft, Hendrick Motorsports has sent 10 people total from its aviation department: aviation director Dave Dudley, who will oversee operations; five captain-level pilots; one operations manager; one mechanic; and two flight attendants. Each person on the mission volunteered to participate.
The Hendrick Motorsports aviation team is planning to fly at least one roundtrip flight per aircraft per day. No timeline has been set for how long the missions will continue.
The Hendrick Motorsports organization is covering all costs of the flights.
For more information on Missionary Flights International, including ways to get involved or make a donation the team urges fans to visit www.missionaryflights.org.