Saturday, January 08, 2005
SOME SMALL MEASURE OF TSUNAMI RELIEF -- A FIRSTHAND REPORT
SOME SMALL MEASURE OF TSUNAMI RELIEF -- A FIRSTHAND REPORT
This is one of those forwarded and re-forwarded pieces. I read it on the bulletin board feature of Seattle dBug, which is the Seattle area Macintosh users group.
However you and I feel about a wealth of issues, it is a good thing to have motivated, well-trained, and well-equipped people available to do things like this at a moment's notice.
Up to date Interesting reading:
Here's a copy of a letter our neighbor received recently:
From the carrier Abraham Lincoln:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
Yesterday I flew for 7.6 hours in a row and today my flight total will be over 7 hours. The typical day starts by turning up the aircraft before sunrise so that as soon as official sunset arrives we can be ready to launch and head toward Banda Aceh (Sultan Air Force base). It has become the hub for distribution of supplies and medical care for the northern half of the island of Sumatra. We land on the taxi way and, in turn, file through the loading area where sailors from the Lincoln (who come in on our helos at the beginning of each day) load our helos to max capacity (up to 2500 pounds of cargo). With each load we receive specific tasking to where the supplies and/or people are to be delivered. Normally we are given a GPS coordinates to mark the delivery site but after just four days of consistent flying the western coast of Sumatra has become very familiar.
Today we dropped about 5000 pounds (two trips) to a small town called Lamno. The landing zone (LZ) is a soccer field of the village school. Following procedure we over fly the landing zone before we land and within minutes hundreds of people (mostly children) crowd the field to witness the landing. Thankfully Lamno's LZ is one of the few that are secured by Indonesian troops (that I dropped off on the first day). The troops are fully armed with machine guns and the like to help keep back the crowd and properly distribute the needed supplies. Our two aircrew who ride with us, local troops, and civilians help unload the helo into a big pile in the field and then into waiting trucks. For the 5-10 minutes needed for unloading I try to snap a few pictures of the locals and of the incredibly excited children. It really brightens your day to see so many kids and the smiles on their faces but then you wonder where mom and dad are...probably no longer around. If you wave the kids all wave back...if you salute they all salute back...if you motion for them to crouch down due to the upcoming rotorwash during take-ok, they just mimic the same motion back.
Today's missions started off quick unusually. It was about 0630 and 6 helicopters were positioned with engines and rotors spinning waiting for sunset when over the 5MC (flight deck PA system) the tower announced, "Man overboard, Man overboard"...one of the biggest adrenaline producing statements possible for helicopter pilots trained at open ocean search and rescue. The tower first assigned the rescue to my helicopter and crew but our rescue swimmer was temporarily out of the helicopter and we were performing some maintenance checks. Tower then reassigned the rescue task to a helicopter from our sister squadron but they don't fly with their rescue swimmers consistently so AW2 Merritt from one of the other helos on deck ran at full sprint to the rescue helo and minutes later saved the sailor who (we later found out) jumped overboard. (We find it odd that he choose the time he did to jump because it was daylight (barely), in perfectly calm seas, 75 degree water, with 6 helicopters manned and ready! I think he was just in search for attention.
Later in the day two helicopters from my squadron (HS-2 ...Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron TWO) flew Secretary of State Collin Powell and FL Gov Jeb Bush and an Indonesian Military General around Banda Aceh and neighboring villages to assess the destruction. Of course it is not news that this area has suffered horribly from the Tsunami but without seeing it first hand I don't believe anyone can understand just how bad it really is. Lamno, a village we have frequented with supplies lately reported 70-80% loss of life. Other villages and small towns on the coast are completely gone. I never thought it possible for a village to be "extinct" but that's about the only way to describe it. The next similar visual image comparable with Sumatra's western coast is the scenes of "seas" of trees from the Mt. St. Helens disaster. But instead of being just trees aligned from the "flow" it is trees, cars, and debris. Some places are just bare, empty valleys where the only structure standing is the villages mosque...probably the only concrete building of the town. Roads, bridges, foundations, etc. were just gone.
Some of the most gratifying parts of the flights are after we drop off the food/water and supplies and we fly low (100-200ft) at 130-150 knots hugging the coast line on the way back to Banda Aceh for our next run. The flying is wonderful and the terrain is beautiful. I imagine Sumatra is a wonderful place to visit and explore when in its prime. The best parts of our flights are during this return to Banda Aceh along the coast where we look for stranded and suffering small groups of people. When we find a group we land (or hover) near by and give away a couple boxes of bottled water and food that we had retained from the previous delivery. Today we picked up a family with two injured kids. Two young boys probably around 5-8 years old. One had a broken leg and a broken arm...the other a broken arm. We picked them up and took the family to Banda Aceh for medical attention. En-route the aircrew (both second class petty officers) administered first aid and splinted the broken limbs and started an IV drip for the youngest boy. At Banda Aceh the Navy medical personnel met us and stretchered our the wounded family.
Other countries operating helicopters and/or fixed wing assets out of Sultan Air Force base (really just a small single runway community sized airport) are Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, and Britain. The multi-national force is quite impressive but it still doesn't seem like enough. VAQ-131 is actively participating in the effort at Banda Aceh. During the first few days of relief operations CDR Ted R. "Bench" Williams acted as the main Naval Liaison Officer and ground coordinator before more structure could be established.
The moral on board is really good. There is tons of media on board including Dan Rather and Dianne Sawyer (spelling?). Each night press come to the ready room to interview pilots and aircrew. That leads me into another thing that the Lincoln is helping with. On most flights we take a media representative or two (or Navy photographers) who take pictures of the relief efforts as well as the devastation. Our Intel office on board is developing a "photographic map" of the western coast of Sumatra to help aid later reconstruction efforts and better determine where supplies must be inserted via helo because they are not accessible by vehicle (due to a 50%+ loss of roadway and 90% loss of bridges) along the Sumatra coast.
I will conclude. Please pass this along to who you'd like. I will also forward this to CDR Williams and Jessie Stensland (of the Times). I love you and thank you for your frequent emails.