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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Fifth Air Force is assisting a private humanitarian mission to help Indonesian islanders continue rebuilding their lives and villages after the Dec. 26 tsunami.

A single-engine amphibian Cessna Caravan, piloted by two former servicemembers for the nonprofit, Christian-based Ministry Aviation Fellowship, was to land at Misawa and Yokota air bases Thursday night and early Friday morning to refuel en route to its final destination of Sumatra, said Master Sgt. Arthur Griffenkranz, 5th Air Force superintendent of aviation affairs.

Granting landing and refueling permission to the crew appears to have salvaged the mission, he said.

“They were calling us the ‘Air Force Angels,’” he said.

The planes already were en route when they realized landing fees in Japan were unaffordable, Griffenkranz said. The group then requested landing permission from the Navy but “because of the short time to accomplish this, the Navy was not able to do it,” he said.

The Navy contacted 5th Air Force, which worked with the Japanese government and other agencies to gain approval within 48 hours.

Such a plane typically would be assessed a $25 landing fee at each base but the charge will be waived, Griffenkranz said. However, the crew will have to pay the going rate for 200 gallons of fuel at Misawa and 700 gallons at Yokota.

The flight originated in California and was to refuel at Petropaulosk Airport in Russia before making a quick pit stop at Misawa on Thursday night and flying on to Yokota. The aircraft next will head to Saipan for more gas, Griffenkranz said.

Frequent fuel replenishment is necessary because the aircraft is not built to fly long distances, he said, adding that he believes the plane added an extra fuel tank for the mission.

A float plane designed to island hop, the Cessna will assist humanitarian efforts in northern Sumatra’s Aceh province, shuttling to rural regions medical teams involved with malaria prevention, clean water seminars, vaccinations and general rural health care, according to the agency’s Web site, http://www.maf.org/. The plane also will support various aid and relief agencies with agriculture projects, micro-business start-ups, water well decontamination, food distribution, psychological and social counseling, boat building and construction projects.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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