Agape Flights staff and volunteers return home safely from Haiti – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

VENICE – Five staff members and two volunteers affiliated with Agape Flights returned safely from Haiti Saturday.
The group was never in danger and was busy helping build a roof on a church in Bedzimel, Haiti, on March 29, when Agape Flights CEO Allen Speer received a text that their airplane, a twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain was destroyed by demonstrators at the Les Cayes airport in the south-central part of the country.
“We were never in harm’s way in any way, shape or form,” Speer said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
After consulting with  both his friend, Phillipe Bayard, director of Sunrise Airways, and the airport director at Les Cayes, Speer and the Agape group moved to Jeremie, on the northern coast in western Haiti.
Earlier: Agape Flights plane destroyed at Les Cayes airport in Haiti
“He advised me, as well as some others advised that I needed to get across the mountains, get over to Jereremie and a secure location to the Haiti Bible Mission,” Speer said.
While on the way, Speer asked the security team to allow him to stop at the airport in Les Cayes to see the aircraft.
“I wanted to thank the people that tried to protect it and wanted to talk to the director of the airport,” Speer said.
A Missionary Aviation Fellowship aircraft took the team from Jeremie to Port-au-Prince, so they could catch the Saturday flight back to the U.S.
The Chieftain is one of two aircraft that Agape Flights, the nonprofit Christian aviation ministry based at Venice Municipal Airport, use to serve missionary groups in Haiti, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Speer said regularly scheduled flights to Haiti will resume Thursday, with the group’s remaining aircraft, an Embraer 110 cargo plane, scheduled to carry 3,000 pounds of cargo to Haiti on Thursday and Friday.
“Agape Flights for 42 years has been serving mission partners throughout the Caribbean,” Speer said. “Our original destination was Les Cayes, Haiti.”
The Haitian government is currently not allowing any air traffic at Les Cayes, but Speer said Agape Flights will serve mission partners in that area through a different location.
“This will not deter us,” Speer said. “We will probably press on even greater than ever before to bring the resources that mission partners need because they need to impact the Caribbean for Christ.”
Speer added: “We do not hold the Haitian people responsible for this, and certainly the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of the Haitian people are appalled, they’re so heartbroken over all of this.”
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According to the Associated Press, Haitians began protesting rising insecurity in the country on March 29. The demonstrations in Les Cayes turned violent. At least one person died and five others were injured, including four police officers, in the confrontation between protesters and authorities in Les Cayes, said Gedeon Chery, a National Police inspector assigned to the city’s airport.
Chery told The Associated Press the person killed was a protester who was shot, but he didn’t say whether police were responsible.
The protests coincided with the 35th anniversary of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution and followed other protests and strikes in recent weeks amid a spike in gang-related kidnappings and complaints about Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s inability to confront gangs.
Speer said that from what he was told, the protests are related to gang activity that has made it virtually impossible for people in Les Cayes to travel to the north or to Port -au-Prince.
“Right now in Haiti, the gangs have control of the roadways, so in order to get from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince, the capital city, you’ve got to go through four checkpoints of gangs that request funds from the poor Haiti people to go by,” Speer said.
“So many of them were attempting to fly and then the Haitian government put a tax on every one-way ticket from their location east to the capital city, so the Haitian people were protesting the Haitian government’s use of taxation because they cannot get from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince by road or by air.
“The director told me that in the rear perimeter of the airport a gang of about 120 protestors stormed the chain link fence there and tore it down,” Speer said. “I think initially their idea was to march up and down on the runway but eventually get up close to the FBO – the fixed base of operation, the terminal – and torch it, set it ablaze.”
There were no other aircraft in the area of the demonstrators and the director told Speer that he heard many of those people say that the Agape aircraft belonged to a senator.
“A senator down in the south does have an aircraft that occasionally he leaves there and it looks very similar to our plane but it obviously was not the senator’s plane,” Speer said. “They began to move that plane as well as jump all over it, tear the antennas off and eventually they threw Molotov cocktails in the interior of it and broke the tail off of it and burned it – It is a total loss.”
The plane is covered under a catastrophic insurance policy and Speer will soon learn what the policy will pay.
Some items, such tools and a $4,000 life raft that was destroyed will not be covered.
The Chieftain could seat two crew members and eight passengers, but rarely carried more than seven people, to allow for the weight of the supplies and the life raft.
Speer said he is looking to replace the plane with a Reims-Cessna F406 Twin Engine turboprop aircraft that could seat as many as 14 people. The projected cost of that plane could be anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million.
Agape Flights has started a 2022 Aircraft Replacement Fund. More information can be found on the nonprofit’s website, https://wwwlagapeflights.com.
Donations in the online Giving Challenge April 26–27 at https://www.agapeflights.com/giving-challenge/ could be used to purchase a replacement plane as well.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at earle.kimel@heraldtribune.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.


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