News: P-3C aircrews assist Haiyan relief efforts
Philippines - In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Republic of the Philippines, a massive multinational effort is underway to bring aid to those affected by the storm.
Patrol Squadrons (VP) 26 and 62, based in Jacksonville, Fla., and currently deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, with Commander, Task Group (CTG) 72.2 have contributed to this effort by repositioning three P-3C Orions, three aircrews, and a detachment of maintenance professionals to Clark Airfield in northern Luzon.
As the storm approached Nov. 8, these aircrews were placed on an alert status prior to the storm making landfall in preparation for the search and rescue missions.
When the government of the Philippines requested assistance and declared a national state of calamity on the Nov. 11, the aircrews were able to reposition to the Philippines in just a few hours. Immediately upon arrival, they began working with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which was placed in charge of the U.S. military effort, to ensure every hour flown provided benefit to disaster relief operations.
The P-3C aircrews have been flying missions over the hardest-hit areas of the Philippines since Nov. 11, assessing damage and searching for populations cut off from sources of food, clean water and medical care. The geography of the Philippines makes the determination of where to focus relief efforts particularly difficult. The archipelagic nation, comprised of more than 7,000 islands, includes countless remote and isolated populations in desperate need of relief. P-3C aircrews help solve this problem by searching for and reporting high-need areas so rescue and relief efforts can arrive as quickly as possible.
Among the hardest-hit areas, is the small island of Homonhan. In the province of East Samar, the 12-mile-long island laid directly in the path of Typhoon Haiyan and was devastated by winds that measured more than 200 miles per hour. A CTG 72.2 P-3C was the first aircraft on scene and the first to make contact with those on the ground in Homonhan. The P-3C mission commander, Lt. Cmdr. Jace Dasenbrock of VP-62, described what his crew witnessed on Nov. 12 as they first approached Homonhan Island:
“We arrived on scene at approximately 0400 Zulu time [noon in Philippine Standard Time] and immediately saw devastation throughout the entire island. Our first pass around the island saw no sign of life below. Buildings were destroyed, with few structures surviving at all. The only building left intact was the church which stood on the southeastern edge of the island. A sailboat was in a tree about 20 feet off the ground. After a second pass, a few heads popped out. A third pass around the tiny island saw about a hundred residents sending SOS signals. A fourth pass was made to give hope to the survivors. With roads washed out, relief needed to be brought in by air. We were able to identify several areas suitable for helicopters and [MV-22B] Osprey to land.”
This discovery was the first of several like it for the CTG 72.2 aircrews. The information and photographs they collect are sent in-flight to intelligence specialists who collate the products and provide them to the Marines coordinating U.S. military relief efforts on the ground. This enables U.S. and Philippine commanders, and government officials to identify and prioritize humanitarian assistance requirements.
Within days of the first P-3C flight over Homonhan Island, the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Carrier Strike Group repositioned close enough to bring relief to its citizens as well as other communities in the region. SH-60 Seahawks and MV-22B Osprey fly countless round trip sorties carrying 20-pound bags of food, water, and medical supplies ashore. The air space has become so crowded with relief aircraft that E-2C Hawkeyes are now orbiting overhead to direct and deconflict air traffic. The P-3C and E-2C aircrews are coordinating to pass locations of suitable landing zones as well as locations of more unreached disaster areas to relief aircraft in real time.
The magnitude and wide geographical footprint of the destruction to remote areas like Homonhan Island make restoring infrastructure and rebuilding communities a slow process, but for now the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, with their forward maritime presence in the Asia-Pacific region, are on station bringing needed aide and hope to the people of Homonhan Island and other devastated locations in the Philippines.
The VP-26 Tridents and the VP-62 Broad Arrows were among the first to provide critical information about where to best focus relief efforts in response to this crisis. The commander of CTG-72.2, Cmdr. Mark Sohaney, is extremely proud of the opportunity to support this effort.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Philippine people, and we are honored to help them in their time of need,” stated Sohaney. “We are postured to remain as long as the Philippine and U.S. government needs us to."
The Filipino people are responding to this setback with their characteristic resilience, aided by the effective measures taken by their government to help prepare them for the storm. The United States stands strongly beside her longtime partner in the midst of this terrible natural disaster.