W. Hemisphere air forces training in Colombia for natural disasters

By Jeimmy Paola Sierra

Puerto Salgar, Colombia, Sep 2 (EFE).- The alert for a simulated 6.5 magnitude earthquake in central Colombia on Thursday kicked off a humanitarian training operation involving rescue units, air crews and others in an exercise to hone their skills to deal with natural disasters, an operation in which 15 Western Hemisphere countries are participating.

From the air base in Rionegro, in Colombia’s northwestern Antioquia province, a KC390 Millennium took off, a multimission aircraft belonging to the Brazilian air force carrying more than 60 emergency personnel to the designated site of the fake quake.

In less than 25 minutes, the rescue group consisting of soldiers, firefighters and emergency workers arrived and immediately launched search and rescue missions, evacuation and air-medic operations during a day of international coordination dubbed “Cooperation VII and Angel of the Andes III,” with the bulk of the activities focused at the Palanquero air base in the municipality of Puerto Salgar.

The quake scenario – according to the Colombian air force’s director of special air commands, Lt. Col. Gabriel Leguizamon – simulated a major temblor striking the area between La Dorada and Puerto Salgar, with its epicenter located at Puerto Boyaca, the site of most of the deployments for the multinational operation.

“We’re measuring the response capability and training rescue teams, crews and commands for a natural disaster event requiring the intervention of rescue forces to save lives,” said Leguizamon, who was in charge of the operation.

At the simulated epicenter, rescue and other teams found collapsed structures, injured people and people buried in the rubble, and rescue personnel from the United States, Canada and Colombia pitched in while officials from Ecuador and Bolivia functioned as observers.

The rescue maneuvers included the disembarkation of personnel from the Red Cross, Civil Defense, the police and firefighters, and some of the teams practiced rappelling and using Black Hawk, Huey II and Bell 212 helicopters in their work.

During the exercise, performed under the slogan “United to Save Lives” and which will last until Sept. 10, the more than 600 participants trained using air assets and the support of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (Sicofaa), which includes more than 21 countries.

Some 140 missions are scheduled for Angel of the Andes III and about 265 flight hours using 22 aircraft within the two programmed scenarios: the first to deal with an earthquake emergency and the second to respond to a tsunami.

Maj. Alfredo Hinojosa, representing the Bolivian air force, said that being part of a training operation like this helps one gain experience and knowledge, as well as to better understand planning issues.

“Combined operations among different countries teach us to respond with more conviction to the problems that can arise,” he told EFE.

Meanwhile, Maj. Alex Jimenez, who heads the small Ecuadorian air force delegation in Colombia, said that in their role as observers they are seeking to “gather teaching” and “debug procedures” to integrate themselves into the natural disaster context.

As part of the training mission, in the field hospital to which the “injured” were taken, members of the Brazilian, Colombian and US Air Forces merged their efforts to revive, stabilize and treat patients.

“It’s important to think that we’re not alone in the world. We need our brothers in the region. We’re really united in learning and saving lives,” Lt. Col. Dalton Muniz Santos, a physician with the Brazilian air force, told EFE.

He also emphasized the performance in the simulation of the new KC390, saying that its “capability, speed and adaptability were fantastic in this operation.”

The ground missions included work to put out fires and to air-drop cargoes and parachutists into Puerto Salgar.

The international exercise will wrap up in the Caribbean coastal town of Coveñas with the recovery of personnel from offshore islands and other operations in open ocean waters to deal with the aftermath of a tsunami.

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