Irma’s toll: A friend lost

Footprints washed away by the waves on Maho Beah
An old Facebook profile photo of Alain, sporting his "Danger: Jet Blast" hat, the infmaous slogan of Maho Beach.
An old Facebook profile photo of Alain, sporting his “Danger: Jet Blast” hat, the infmaous slogan of Maho Beach.

If you spent any appreciable time along the fence line at Princess Juliana International Airport there’s a decent chance you met Alain. If you were smart about your time there you definitely did, and then stood next to him to capture both the “standard” iconic shots and other angles that most short-timers never think about.

The airport will reopen and the fence will be repaired in the wake of Hurricane Irma. But Alain’s shadow will no longer be part of that scene.

I was fortunate to meet Alain a couple years ago as part of a media event hosted by the airport. I’d like to say that his presence was larger than life but he was a big guy. He also knew how to be in a room without taking over the room. It is a skill many photographers seem to possess and he was among them. It is spectacular to watch and he was an expert at it.

The last thing he shared on Facebook as the storm approached St Martin was a reminder to friends of the damage hurricanes can cause, based on personal experience from the Luis, a major storm that rocked the island in 1995. The storm destroyed his home but the family rebuilt. He urged caution ahead of the storm. Hopefully it helped some others survive.

MATERIAL things can be replaced but your LIFE cannot !!

And he never will be replaced. Not to his wife and daughter. And not to the thousands of others on the island who knew him and benefited from his presence there.

Damage on St Martin from Hurricane Luis in 1995.
Damage on St Martin from Hurricane Luis in 1995.

The damage Irma did to the island of Saint Maarten/Sint Martin is hard for me to process. After the first day or two of not hearing from contacts on the island the hope was mostly that it was an infrastructure issue. A telco office flooded or towers knocked offline. And much of that proved to be true. In the back of my head, however, I assumed the worst. After several visits there are too many people I know on the island for all to have escaped unscathed. News continues to trickle out; the infrastructure issues are real. And with that comes more of the bad news as well.

I’ll return to Princess Juliana International Airport and Maho Beach. I go for the planes and for the people. Future visits, however, will be incomplete.

Farewell, Alain.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. The time of loss with one we knew to this terrible storm was near and now at hand, with heavy heart, we bid his soul farewell, may God speed his wings into the sky and beyond.

  2. Sorry to hear the loss of your friend, Seth. It’s frightening to think that someone who knew the dangers and was likely vigilant about safety couldn’t escape the grasp of Irma.

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