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US troops, aircraft heading to Nepal delayed a day

U.S. Marines and U.S. Agency for International Development members board a U.S. KC-130 at K-5 Right, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, April 29, 2015. The team is traveling to Nepal to determine what assets will be required to aid the country devastated by an earthquake April 25.

COLBY COOPER/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 2, 2015

This story has been updated to reflect new information provided by U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Four tilt-rotor V-22 Ospreys, other U.S. aircraft  and 150 military personnel headed to Nepal to boost earthquake relief efforts have been delayed a day and are now expected to arrive Sunday.

The delay was not related to capacity at the airport in Kathmandu, said Marine Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander, who arrived Wednesday in the Nepalese capital with an advance party of Pacific Command troops. A wide variety of factors contributed to the delay, with aircraft, personnel and equipment coming from Japan, Guam, Thailand and the Philippines, she said. 

“We are bringing in significant capacity,” Kennedy said Friday of the U.S. assets, which will include Air Force personnel out of Guam who can control air traffic, repair airfields and offload supplies with heavy equipment. He said the assets were originally scheduled to arrive Saturday.

In addition to the Ospreys and three UH-1 Hueys, other U.S. aircraft that will assist include four Air Force C-17 Globemasters and two Marine Corps KC-130s, according to Chuck Little of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, public affairs office.

The Ospreys and Huey helicopters will be tasked with ferrying relief supplies and personnel from the international airport in Kathmandu to outlying areas, Kennedy said.

The Nepalese government, which has only a few helicopters, is rushing much-needed aid to isolated villages hit by the April 25 quake, estimated to have killed more than 6,200 people.

Some of the locations where the helicopters will fly are 18,000 feet above sea level.

Ospreys have seen extensive service in Afghanistan and deployed to the Philippines during relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Flying in the Himalayas will be a new challenge, Kennedy said.

“They have never been in anything that approximates this,” he said.

However the mission in Nepal is something that the 3rd MEB is prepared to handle. The unit trained for earthquake response in Nepal twice in 2013 and again last year, Kennedy said.

“It seems unlikely that an amphibious force would come to this landlocked country but … this is a thing that we have anticipated for a few years.”

Kennedy, who visited Nepal during the disaster training, said beautiful brick buildings that he had seen in Kathmandu had been reduced to rubble by the earthquake.

The response of Army Special Forces troops out of Okinawa, who were doing cold weather training in Nepal when the earthquake struck, has been impressive, Kennedy said.

“They went to Mount Everest and started pulling people out,” he said. “It wasn’t just at Base Camp. They went up the mountain and they were pulling people out.”

The soldiers recovered the body of Google executive Dan Fredinburg from the mountain, he said.

“As soon as they were done with that, they were down here going out to villages doing first-aid and even search-and-rescue,” he said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

 

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