FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Staff from Agape, the Sarasota-based missionary group is speaking out after one of their planes helping with humanitarian aid in Haiti was burned by protesters.
"You're instantly hurt and devastated and as the day goes on you realize, you know what, no one on our team was harmed in all this," said Abby Duncan the communications manager for Agape.
Duncan said their group flew into Haiti on Sunday to do earthquake relief, and when the fire happened they were helping rebuild a church in a remote village.
They weren't injured in the fire, but the organization is working to bring them back.
"The aircraft is a tool. It's a very useful tool. It's our ministry but we're so thankful that our team is safe," said Duncan. "The aircraft can be replaced but lives cannot."
Agape has been flying to Haiti for 42 years and takes weekly flights to Haiti, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and serves about 300 missionary families.
Haiti remains a nation in turmoil.
This incident follows peaceful protests in other parts of the nation calling for the government to address gang violence and kidnappings.
Agape staff said demonstrators may have mistaken their aircraft for a politician's plane.
"When they see a private aircraft, they think that those are people profiting from their misfortune and Agape's plane happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, they didn't realize it was a nonprofit's plane," said Duncan.
"I was shocked, we've been in that airport many times last fall after the earthquake hit, it's getting unsettling," said Joe Karavensh the president/pilot of Missionary Flights International (MFI), a Chrisitan-based non-profit organization. "I actually flew yesterday (Tuesday) and I hadn't heard about it until I landed here."
MFI was founded over 50 years ago and provides transportation for about 550 different Christian organizations, mostly working in Haiti but also working in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Karavensh said they are in and out of Haiti twice a week from the Treasure Coast bringing in about 3,000-4,000 people a year doing short-term mission projects as well as a quarter-million pounds of baggage and cargo to help with churches, hospitals, clinics, schools and more.
"We don't want to risk having any incidents happening. Even if we're on the flight and we fly over the airport, we generally do a visual looking down where we come around and land and if it looks like there's a crowd of people or something that's not normal, we'll bypass it. That's our precautions right now on our plane," said Karavensh.
WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked Karavensh:
"Your volunteers, were there any concerns after this news especially with the flight being so close to when the events happened?"
"We contacted all the ones that are traveling tomorrow and, at this point, I understand that they're all aware of what happened but they're all still ready to go," said Karavensh.
The non-profit said some 10 volunteers and supplies are flying into Haiti Thursday morning.
Karavensh has reached out to Agape flights to see if they can be of any help.
MFI is in the need of more pilots and is refurbishing a third airplane.
To find how you can help, click here.