Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire today joined a team of doctors and others on a charter plane to Haiti that left Pittsburgh about noon and could bring back nearly half the children in an orphanage run by two Ben Avon sisters.
Rendell, Altmire and other Pennsylvania lawmakers worked over the weekend to secure the children's departure. The plane had been expected to leave at 9 a.m. but was delayed several hours when it finally left Pittsburgh International Airport, according to several people with knowledge of the trip.
The mission is expected to bring to Pittsburgh 61 of 150 children at the BRESMA orphanage in Port-au-Prince, said Gary Tuma, a Rendell spokesman. The plane landed in Miami about 3 p.m., Tuma said. It is expected to return to Pittsburgh about midnight.
Last week's 7.0-magnitude earthquake mostly destroyed the orphanage. Jamie and Ali McMutrie of Ben Avon, who have run part of the orphanage since 2007, expressed fears for their safety and well- being and told friends and relatives they are short on supplies such as food and water.
Larry Smar, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, said today the orphanage received food, water and medical supplies but "there remains a need to provide security and more resources" for BRESMA and other orphanages in the capital. Smar said Casey was not on the plane.
Tuma said 41 of the 61 children coming to Pittsburgh are in various stages of the adoption process. They will be evaluated at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, he said.
"They don't know what they're going to find once they get down there," Tuma said. "We're hoping for a quick turnaround."
The mission was the culmination of efforts by lawmakers and several small groups trying to figure out a way to help the earthquake-ravaged nation. It wasn't clear how many people were on the plane but Tuma said the team included several doctors and nurses from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, West Penn Allegheny Health System and the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.
The group did not include former federal prosecutor Mary Beth Buchanan, who had been working toward the same goal.
"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," Buchanan said in a statement. "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. …