JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Haiti is still assessing damage after a massive earthquake devastated the island nation.
The navy, coast guard, and U.S. aid have all been called in to help; including two crews from right here in Jacksonville.
Patrol Squadron 5 is on a reconnaissance mission. They are led by lieutenant commander Darryl Abriam. According to the crew, he’s the quarterback of the team.
“I have my teammates running their systems and I’m the one directing and setting things up for them,” Abriam says.
His goal... guide the rest of the crew as they take a look at the damage in Haiti and tell responders on the ground where to go.
“We’re supposed to be going out there in helping coordinate all the different entities that are out there.”
Crew member Scott Mckenzie explained what they’re looking for.
“People in distress, road destruction, just the overall state of Haiti after a natural disaster.”
They search with specialized equipment.
“We have powerful camera systems that we have here that we can look around, assess the damages, find where people are hiding or huddling together on the rooftops or in areas where they need help and we can see them, look for SOS’s, things like that.”
The entire crew operates the communication system.
“We are a crew formally, so the same 9 people comprise a crew- we all train together,” pilot Antone Katalinich says.
Together they track the damage and tell others where to go to help. Naval Flight Officer Darya Pekari explains they have multiple pieces of equipment to complete the mission.
“Basically utilizing our sensors, our cameras to get as much as we can so that our intel teams can assess the damage.”
For some, this isn’t the first time they’ve helped Haiti. Scott Mckenzie has been in this position before.
“I did the first mission setback when he had the first week in 2010… it was rewarding back then and it’s rewarding now.”
But that ability to help those in need is exactly why this Jacksonville-based crew chooses to work together.
“We certainly wish that disasters would never happen, but they do happen, that’s why we train to it that feels good that we are able to help in some way,” Katalinich says. “To save lives is our goal every day, and to help Haitian people through this tragedy.”
Local sailors are playing a massive role in helping Haiti recover from the earthquake that devastated the island. Right now, the death toll is at more than 2,000. 12,000 more people are hurt.
Patrol Squadron 5 based at NAS JAX has been flying over Haiti since last Saturday. Commodore Matthew Pottenburgh explained the mission.
“We are going to proceed overhead Haiti for about six hours and we are going to be providing humanitarian assistance and response.”
They have a straightforward mission — track damage in Haiti, relay information on damaged infrastructure, tent cities, or calls for help to those on the ground. Be the eyes in the sky. Commander Darryl Abriam says they communicate with everyone below them.
“With us being up high we are acting like an air controller.”
Crew member Scott McKenzie says they can place everyone where they need to go.
“At our given altitude we can basically place everyone where they need to be if needed, other helos, other assets are going to be out there doing their part of their mission.”
But the mission is not without its challenges. The team has to follow a set flight path, track target areas, and communicate with other aircraft, all while avoiding storm cells and responding to emergencies.
“A lot of medical evacuations coordination, we are looking at are down beneath us, we are providing communication relay as well as directing them to and from where the survivors are that they can put on a helicopter and take to the hospital in port-au-prince,” Pottenburgh explained. He says the mission is simple.
“To save lives is our goal every day, and to help Haitian people through this tragedy.”
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