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Puerto Rico ANG evacuates 70 from Haiti

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon
  • Defense Media Activity - San Antonio
Airmen from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Wing returned from Haiti with precious cargo Jan. 17 after delivering much needed supplies to a country crippled from a recent earthquake.

Shortly after landing at Port-au-Prince International Airport and delivering a Puerto Rican search and rescue team, the aircrew quickly responded to the ever-changing scene and reconfigured their C-130 Hercules to take passengers aboard. More than 20 of the passengers had sustained injuries from the disaster and needed medical attention, even in flight.

"It's obvious that they were fragile," said Capt. Cesar Lozada, one of two aircraft pilots on the sortie. "During the flight an elderly woman started having trouble breathing. One of the crew noticed the woman and prepared to give her oxygen. Fortunately, there happened to be a doctor on the aircraft who made his way to her and began treating her."

After learning he had a medical emergency aboard his aircraft, Captain Lozada began working the communications and coordinating with various units to get the passengers on the ground safely and quickly. While the doctor was treating the elderly woman, a young woman began having an asthma attack.

"That's the difficult thing about these operations. There are so many variables that are out of your control," Captain Lozada said, likening the relief operations to a deployment due to the constantly changing needs of the operation.

After landing safely in Puerto Rico, the patients and other passengers were taken to a staging area where doctors and Red Cross representatives took care of their needs while the crew started their crew rest to prepare for the next sortie that would likely be different from this one as the situation changes on the ground.

The unit has already flown more than 25 sorties in support of Operation Unified Response and was one of the first Air Force units into Haiti after the quake. According to Captain Lozada, the situation is improving dramatically in terms of airlift and the unit is a key component of the relief effort.

"Today was the best day," said Captain Lozada. "This is a very special moment to bring these people here."