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U.S. servicemembers, Panamanian ground forces save aircrafts, costly equipment from fire

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kerry Jackson
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern)
U.S. servicemembers participating in a multinational exercise here Monday, aided Panamanian ground forces in saving civilian and military aircraft from destruction after a fire engulfed an aircraft hangar at the military section of the Tocumen International Airport.

The fire, with flames as high as 30 feet, spread rapidly towards seven parked aircraft, prompting more than 20 U.S. Airmen and Sailors, along with Panamanian ground forces, into action. The team quickly pushed the aircrafts, including an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, 100-200 feet away to prevent a chain reaction towards a nearby fuel storage unit. 

"Had it not been for the quick response of our Airmen and Sailors who worked alongside the Panamanian ground forces, this fire would certainly have caused much more damage," said Maj. Mark Webb, the officer in charge of the Air Force contingent. "Their actions prevented the fire from reaching and igniting a nearby fuel storage unit where we would have had a much bigger problem on our hands - but more than anything I'm happy that no one was hurt." 

The airport fire department arrived shortly after the fire started at 9:30 a.m. and they safely extinguished the fire around 1:30 p.m. permitting normal airport operations to resume Tuesday morning. 

An investigation to determine the cause of the fire is currently underway. 

More than 45 U.S. Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers, along with military and civilians from 21 countries, arrived here in early August to participate in Fuerzas Aliadis PANAMAX 2008, a U.S. Southern Command sponsored exercise that focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal - a strategic and economically crucial waterway. The countries exercised ground, sea, and air responses to any request from the Panama government to assist in protecting and guaranteeing safe passage through the canal and ensuring its neutrality. U.S. SOUTHCOM has sponsored the FA PANAMAX exercise since 2003, which has become the regions premier multinational training event for more than 20 countries. 

FA PANAMAX 2008 participating nations include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the United States and Uruguay. France, Mexico, Paraguay, and Spain participated as observers. The Conference of Central American Armies, the Organization of American States and the United Nations also participated. 

The U.S. SOUTHCOM located in Miami, Florida, is one of nine unified Combatant Commands in the Department of Defense. It is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean, Cuba and the Bahamas, and their territorial waters, as well as for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations. SOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal and canal area.