Kadena airmen to join Marines in Philippines for relief effort
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Kadena Air Base is sending aircraft and about 50 personnel to the Philippines to help the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s emergency disaster relief mission there.
Three 33rd Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pavehawks, two supporting -130 Combat Shadows from the 353rd Special Operations Group and a supporting 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker left Kadena Thursday morning for the seven-hour, 750-mile journey to storm-devastated Luzon island, said Maj. Michael Paoli, an 18th Wing spokesman.
They will join some 600 Marines and sailors of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade being deployed at the request of the Philippine government as part of Joint Task Force 535, providing humanitarian assistance to displaced persons.
“Kadena’s airmen and helicopters are prepared to begin immediate search-and-rescue operations as necessary to mitigate the current crisis,” the spokesman said.
Philippine officials report 842 people are dead and 751 missing as a result of a train of three storms that devastated eastern Luzon’s coastal area last week. More than 200,000 people have been displaced, with wrecked hospitals and clinics and dirty drinking water adding to the crisis.
In Real, about 40 miles east of Manila, rescuers pulled four survivors Thursday from a building that collapsed in mudslides 10 days ago.
Philippine officials said at least 10 children have died of diarrhea and dysentery in evacuation centers where conditions were becoming intolerable.
Major Douglas Hietand, acting commander of the 33rd Rescue Squadron, said his three HH-60 helicopters were ready to roll with less than 24 hours’ notice.
“Earlier in the week the Marines gave us a heads-up that we might be needed,” he said Thursday. “We received our deployment orders around 9 p.m. last night and were launched at 9:55 a.m. this morning.”
About 50 airmen are being dispatched, 15 for each helicopter plus additional aircrew and maintenance personnel, Hietand said.
“We’ll be providing humanitarian assistance,” he said. “There will be some pararescue guys as well for medical evacuation, search-and-rescue and anything else the Marines task us to do.”
They will work out of Clark Air Base, a former U.S. airfield.
“Initially, they’re saying we might be there a couple of weeks,” Hietand said. “But we will stay there as long as it takes. We won’t really know how bad things are or what’s going on until we get down there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.