"Christmas Drop" Delivers Relief To Typhoon-Stricken Island

Published on 17 December 2013

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by Zachary Wilson


Andersen Air Force Base, Guam

Packages Make Their Way To The Shore Of Kayangel Island
Packages Make Their Way To The Shore Of Kayangel Island

Airmen participating in the annual Operation Christmas Drop here answered an emergency call and airdropped critical shipments of water and food to 30 workers recovering from damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan on Kayangel Island, part of the Republic of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean.

Within 48 hours of the initial request for help, airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan’s 36th Airlift Squadron and Andersen Air Force Base’s 36th Wing planned and executed a C-130 Hercules mission that flew nearly 800 miles from Andersen on December 11 to airdrop the supplies to the sparsely inhabited island.

Kayangel, the northernmost island-state of Palau, was so devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in mid-November that the 69 of the 300 Kayangel residents who did not leave before the storm were forced to evacuate after the storm passed.

The super typhoon, with sustained winds up to 230 kph, swept away homes, foliage, infrastructure and — perhaps most critically — the island’s water collection and storage facilities. Luckily, there were no typhoon-related fatalities on the island.

“All structures were damaged or lost, including the school, but all 69 people were evacuated to Koror and now only a relief [and] rebuild team is on Kayangel; they were hungry and very thirsty as no local water or coconuts are available,” said Bruce Best, the station manager at the University of Guam’s Telecommunication and Distance Education Operation.

Best’s program, which connects telecommunication services to remote areas of the Pacific, has been coordinating with officials in the region in response to damage caused by November’s typhoon.

The “vital water and food drops saved the day and were very appreciated. The U.S. Air Force rocks!” Best said.

Coordinating the request for help proved challenging for the government of Palau and representatives of the U.S. State Department at the U.S. Embassy on the nearby island-state of Koror.

“Really, the only means of communication to Kayangel is by VHF radio to the state representative in Kayangel,” said Joyce Isechal at the U.S. Embassy Palau. “When I relayed to Palau Minister of State Billy Kuartei last Wednesday at noon that the U.S. Air Force ‘Santa’ had just dropped water and food for the residents of Kayangel, he was elated and said, ‘That’s what they need.’”

Airmen executing the mission used a novel approach to ensure more than 4,800 pounds of water and food were securely dropped without loss using the Low Cost, Low Altitude re-supply system.

A team of riggers from Yokota Air Base devised a way to deliver six low-cost, low-altitude bundles of water that weighed up to 250 kilograms each, a first for the program. They surrounded the bottles of water with custom-cut pieces of cardboard honeycomb to prevent shifting and to help stabilize the load.

“It’s not an easy task at all,” said Staff Sergeant Landon Soles, an air transportation specialist. “Water is one of the most difficult payloads to airdrop as it gains its own momentum.”

Soles said his team used as much energy-dispersing material as possible to dampen the shock that occurs when a parachute payload hits its target.

“The Army has been trying to perfect the delivery of water via airdrop for years,” Soles said. “Even with robust and reinforced water containers, it’s difficult to keep the entire water package intact without any sort of material loss.”

Officials on Kayangel hope to complete work on the island’s water facilities soon, as the goal is for residents to return to the island and re-build their homes and community, Best said.

“I hope [Andersen and Yokota] understand the attitude of gratitude not just from the people of Kayangel but [from] the leaders of Palau, who recognize the efforts of others who understand the challenge of recovery,” Isechal said.

During Operation Christmas Drop, Yokota riggers expect to prepare approximately 80 bundles containing 18,000 kilograms of donated relief for distribution via C-130 airdrop throughout Micronesia. The annual operation continues through this week.


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Posted 2013-12-17 19:00:00