Isolated Indonesians Enthusiastic Over Bottled Water Drop
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
SUMATRA, Indonesia, Jan. 16, 2005 Humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations took Navy Lt. Dan Bogan of Helicopter Support Squadron 11 to some of the more isolated areas of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, Jan. 15.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse R. McCormack with
Helicopter Support Squadron 11 crouches in the window of an MH-60S Seahawk.
Bottled water destined for isolated victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and
tsunamis covers the floor behind him. The crew dropped the water in a small
village in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
His mission, in support of Operation Unified Assistance, was to deliver bottled water to residents of the island isolated by the effects of the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunamis.
The sound of a helicopter approaching brings people running. Navy Lt. j.g. Patrick Smith, the secondary pilot with the crew, said they can approach a landing zone and see no one. But as soon as they land, he said, "people pop out of the woodwork, and there's 70 people around you in no time."
Those people don't care what the helicopter is carrying, though food is becoming more requested than water, Smith said.
This flight was no exception. The few people at the landing zone doubled once the helicopter landed. In a matter of minutes, Petty Officers 2nd Class Joshua Cooper and Jesse R. McComack pushed the 100-plus water bottles of out of the helicopter. The crowd, young and old, grabbed as much water as they could carry and carefully moved it away from the thumping of the rotors only to return for more.
How the helicopter is positioned is a detail that gets much attention as a safety issue. If it's not positioned correctly, the rotors that normally spin at 12 feet off the ground can dip to only four feet. Leaflets have been printed to warn the residents of procedures for safely approaching a helicopter. They have been dropped ahead of an approach to deliver supplies.
One man who ran out to meet the helicopter actually climbed in and stood in the door looking at his friends. Others kept their feet planted firmly on the ground, but laid their bodies on the helicopter's deck to reach the bottles stuck under one of the seats.
The welcome was more than enthusiastic, but the departing scene said it all. Those who had come out to collect the aid the HC-11 flight crew was delivering backed away from the Seahawk as it prepared to leave.
One boy had already carried his treasure out of harm's way. As he sat in the field, the hand that wasn't holding the bottle of water he was drinking from was held straight up in the air, flashing a No. 1 at the crew.
The aircrew works from a list of the areas in the most need compiled by the United Nations. But they also watch for "targets of opportunity," Bogan said.
On one flight, a crew was following the main coastal road of Sumatra, Indonesia. The crew saw four people on the beach and realized they weren't going to go much further than they were, Bogan said. "The road had been washed away and there was a huge lagoon they'd have to cross.
The crew set down to see what they needed and where they were trying to go.
"Four turned into 40 that (the pilot) ended up evacuating down to an airport so they could get some food and water," Bogan said. "They hadn't eaten in four days when (the pilot) stopped."
These are the stories that tug at the world's collective heartstrings.
"I enjoy it," McCormack said of the mission at hand. "It's a lot more physical work. (But) it's a lot more gratifying handing out things to people who need them."