Relief supplies for the landslide victims in Leyte province, central Philippines, are rolled into the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft at Hickam Air Force Base. The C-17 returned to Hawaii on Thursday after a four-day round trip to Guam and the Philippines with a combined Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard crew, who delivered more than 30,000 pounds of supplies, including pre-packaged meals, bottled water, tents, cots and forklifts to aid victims of the mudslide.
Aid flight shows jet's flexibility
A C-17 mercy mission strikes a special chord with Filipino-Americans
It took a while to get things rolling, but a C-17 cargo aircraft from Hawaii completed a mission to aid victims of the mudslide that killed more than 1,000 people in the Philippines.
The U.S. Air Force had hoped the mission would be the first real-life run for its brand new "Spirit of Hawaii-Ke Aloha," a $200 million transport that arrived at Hickam Air Force Base earlier in the month.
But a computer malfunction grounded the giant aircraft newly based in Hawaii and a mainland-based C-17 cargo jet on a training mission on the Big Island was diverted for the mercy mission.
Nevertheless, the quickly arranged airlift demonstrated the capability of C-17s based in Hawaii for peacetime missions.
The plane returned Thursday after a four-day round trip to Guam and the Philippines with a combined Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard crew, who delivered more than 30,000 pounds of supplies, including pre-packaged meals, bottled water, tents, cots and forklifts.
Col. John Cinco, born in Baltimore but raised in Cebu, Philippines, was on the flight as director of international health affairs based at Hickam. Cinco's medical team is specially trained for international medical missions.
"We concentrate in public health issues of the survivors and their families," Cinco said, "as well as health issues for the rescuers and recovery operation. When we've done our job, we turn it over to the Philippine government. We bridge the gap until the other agencies are able to take over."
The mission also picked up two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specialists in Cebu and carried them on to former Clark Air Base, where they would be ferried to the disaster site to evaluate the possibility of more mudslides.
The mission holds a special significance for Hawaii in several ways.
Ties between the state and the Philippines are very strong, with more than 20 percent of Hawaii residents identifying themselves as Filipino-Americans.
Master Sgt. Gregorio Martinez and his crew of 12 remained in the Philippines, getting off on Mactan Island and boarding a C-130 for Leyte.
The flight's loadmaster was Hawaii Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Alan Ogata of Mililani. He's been a loadmaster for the past 25 years.
"When I heard about the school house that was buried by the landslide, it made me think of my daughter who was 6 years old when we lost her," Ogata said. "Airlifts can be used for war, but it can also be used for humanitarian work. This (C-17) is one of the few weapon systems that can do good and not just war."