Typhoon delays but doesn't prevent Christmas drop over Pacific islands
December 28, 2002
Super Typhoon Pongsona’s 180 mph winds might have delayed Santa Claus a bit this year but they won’t stop him.
The Air Force still plans to mark the 50th anniversary of the annual Christmas drop over Pacific islands, despite losing about half of its donations during the Dec. 8 typhoon.
The storm’s brutal winds battered Guam for about 12 hours. “They lost about half of the pallets they were going to drop,” said 1st Lt. Kimberly Melchor, spokeswoman for Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
Pongsona recovery efforts postponed the Christmas drop, which was supposed to start Dec. 15. Just one flight was made; the rest have been rescheduled for January and February, said Staff Sgt. Jess Harvey, Andersen Air Force Base spokesman.
Donations from U.S. military installations in Guam and Japan, and Guam business owners and residents, were boxed and stored in an Andersen hangar in preparation for the drop.
Although many of the boxes sustained water damage, Melchor said, plenty of goods remain to disperse to outlying islands near Guam. “Last year they raised 75 boxes. This year, they raised twice that amount,” she said.
Harvey said, “They have all the donations they can handle right now.”
Andersen takes the lead in collecting and preparing the donations for flight, while Yokota Air Base C-130s and air crews deliver the gifts.
The one flight this year took off Dec. 21, with retired Col. Gail Halvorsen aboard. He’s the famed “Candy Bomber” who dropped chocolate bars to Berlin children during the Berlin Airlift.
The C-130 dropped three boxes to three islands. Such boxes weigh about 400 pounds each and either float to the hard ground under a parachute or land untethered in shallow lagoons. The ones dropped Dec. 21 contained fishing nets, construction materials, canned goods, clothing, toys, school supplies, powdered milk, rice and other sundries, Harvey said.
A giant Teddy bear also was dropped from the plane.
The Christmas drop traditionally brings gifts to islanders in Micronesia and the Northern Marianas, tiny islands scattered north and south of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. The Dec. 21 flight flew over Anatahan, Agrihan, and Alamagan, islands north of Saipan.
The Christmas drop tradition evolved from one flight in 1952. A WB-50 aircraft from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, formerly assigned to Andersen, was flying a mission south of Guam when crewmembers noticed islanders waving to them. The crew gathered miscellaneous items from the plane, put the items in a container, attached it to a parachute and dropped the cargo as the plane circled around again.