Edwards Air Force Base tower damaged during earthquake, crews assessing Navy’s China Lake

Marines from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 stand ready to assist powering down a KC-130J "Super Hercules," after its first flight with the new Harvest Hawk mission kit at Air Force Plant 42, Aug. 29, 2009.


By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 8, 2019

A tower at an off-base plant that supports operations at Edwards Air Force Base sustained damage Friday during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in southern California, base officials confirmed.

Air operations have continued at the site despite the damage, Brig. Gen. John Teichert, commander of the base’s 412th Test Wing, said in a video posted to social media.

The tower is at a site known as Plant 42, located about 30 miles south of Edwards in Palmdale. The plant supports some NASA operations and is home to large contractors such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Plant 42 employs about 9,000 people. Edwards is home to the Air Force Flight Test Center.

After assessing damage at the air force base, teams from Edwards on Saturday traveled about 70 miles north to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, where the earthquake was centered and caused enough damage to render the base “not mission capable,” according a Navy statement.

When the earthquake struck, China Lake was already closed and crews were cleaning up from a 6.4 magnitude earthquake Thursday, which was also centered at fault lines on the base, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The support teams from Edwards included firefighters, electricians, plumbers and structural engineers, Teichert said.

Officials at China Lake, which authorized the evacuation of nonessential personnel last week, are about 10% complete with their assessment of about 1,200 facilities stretched across the base’s 1.2 million acres, said Helen Haase, a spokeswoman with Navy Region Southwest. China Lake is the Navy’s largest single land holding.

Roads at the base are still displaced and traveling there is difficult, she said. Inside buildings, furniture, computers and office supplies are strewn about. Some utilities will need repair, Haase said.

“The commissary is the typical Hollywood movie — shelves down and products everywhere,” she said.

The commander of China Lake, Capt. Paul Dale, briefly spoke Saturday at a news conference.

Dale said he did not have any specifics on damage to the base because they were only in the initial assessment phase. However, he did say all weapons on the base “are secure.”

The news conference was held in Ridgecrest — a town where many personnel who work at Edwards and China Lake live — and included California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He discussed the ongoing efforts to get China Lake operational again.

“I don’t think there’s a more important economic activity than to get those folks back to work and the base back up,” Newsom said, adding it provides 86% of the town’s economic activity.

It has not yet been determined when more personnel will be permitted on the base or the evacuation order will be lifted, Haase said.

Twitter: @Rose_Lori