Pilot of First Burma Relief Mission Describes Experience
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 14, 2008 The Air Force pilot who flew the first U.S. relief flight to Burma said today that, while he and his crew were received warmly, it was clear to him that more relief is needed.
“Everyone … was so ecstatic or excited to have us there on the ground,” Capt. Trevor Hall said during a teleconference with online journalists and “bloggers.” “With very little broken English that we could make out, they were trying to say: ‘Please bring more; please bring more.’”
Hall was the pilot in command of the C-130E Hercules transport aircraft that flew the first U.S. emergency relief supplies into Rangoon International Airport in Burma. The supplies were to assist with the recovery from the devastation that Cyclone Nargis wrought over much of Burma’s Irrawaddy River delta May 2.
“On board the plane, we took about 30,000 pounds of bottled water, mosquito nets and blankets for the first plane in,” Hall said.
He said the offload at the airport took two hours.
“The first hour was spent unloading all the supplies that we brought in, because [the Burmese military] did have to hand-offload all of the cargo,” Hall said. “They offloaded it all directly off our plane and placed it into military trucks and drove it to a different staging area on the airport.
“When we landed, I didn’t exactly know what to expect as far as what else would be on the ramp at the airport,” he added.
When the U.S. aircrew landed, they saw a Hellenic Air Force C-130 plane from Greece, two Malaysian C-130s, and some Indian planes, as well.
Following the first relief flight May 12, Hall said, the U.S. Marine Corps transported similar items yesterday, and more relief flights are continuing today. “The stuff that they were carrying today was medical supplies, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, some food, and first-aid material,” said Hall.
The Air Force crew, consisting of six basic crew members and two maintainers, flew from the Utapao Royal Thai Navy air base, in Thailand. Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Henrietta Fore, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, accompanied the crew on the mission.
After landing at the airport, Keating, Fore and a member of Thailand’s government met with Burmese government officials, Hall said. After their two-hour meeting, the crew returned to Bangkok, Thailand, where Keating and Fore continued to coordinate further relief efforts.
Hall said Keating’s visit with the Burmese government officials was to assure them that U.S. intentions are to help them.
“He went in specifically to negotiate with the government to figure out exactly what they would allow us to do,” Hall said.
Before assisting with the relief efforts, Hall, assigned to 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, was on assignment in Thailand participating in a U.S. Marine Corps exercise. “We were already in Thailand supporting a Marine exercise called Cobra Gold, and we were getting ready to go back home to Tokyo when all this kind of kicked off,” he said.
Hall noted that the aircrew had been standing by on alert for 10 days, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“We were received very graciously. … Obviously, [the Burmese military] knew we were coming, and they were planning for us,” he said.
Hall said he believes Rangoon International Airport could easily accomodate one of the larger C-17 Globemaster III or KC-10 Extender transport jets each hour, but might have difficulties offloading them.
“There would be no problems with handling the large amounts of traffic or even ramp space. The one problem they would have, though, is their offload capability is very limited,” he explained. “They didn’t have, for instance, forklifts or any type of equipment that was really needed to offload our plane, and the plane ended [up having] to be hand-offloaded.”
During their flight to Rangoon, the crew flew over the cyclone-devastated area and saw the results firsthand.
“The majority of our route, once we crossed over the border, you could see the amount of devastation that the country had to face,” he said. “There was a massive amount of flooding [and] lots of standing water.
“Many trees had been tossed over, and houses … had been knocked down,” he continued. “And obviously, from our perspective, it looked like not much had been done to really get it cleaned out at this time.”
Hall said that during the flight crew’s descent to the airport -- at about 1,000 to 2,000 feet -- they noticed a lot of main roads around the airport, but saw only saw one truck on the road, indicating continued obstacles to massive relief efforts.
“Based on what I saw, I really don’t think they have the infrastructure. … It would take a lot of people and resources to distribute it the way it needs to be distributed,” he said.
Hall was born in St. Louis Park, Minn., but grew up in Rigby, Idaho, a small town outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho. He earned his commission through the U.S. Air Force Academy.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)