Aircrews Provide Over 6,200 Damage Assessment Photos in Week 1 of Hurricane Response
By Lt. Col. Andrew Oppmann
Southeast Region Director of Public Affairs
Members of Civil Air Patrol's Southeast Region continue to serve state and federal disaster relief officials by documenting the tremendous damage caused by Hurricane Michael's path across Florida and Georgia.
As of Wednesday, CAP's Florida Wing flew 67 sorties and captured more than 3,500 high-definition aerial photos. Meanwhile, Georgia Wing crews have made 55 flights and took more than 2,700 photos from the air.
Also, Georgia Wing members assisted with the use of a Surrogate Predator unmanned aerial system launched from Mobile, Alabama, to survey damage in three areas along the coast of Florida's Panhandle.
“In 40 years of working disaster missions, this one has the most intense and concentrated damage I’ve seen,” said Lt. Col. Bill Weiler, planning section chief for Florida Wing’s response mission.
CAP, acting as the Air Force Auxiliary, is supporting Air Force Northern (AFNORTH) during Defense Support of Civil Authorities operations following the landfall of Michael on the Gulf Coast.
AFNORTH's primary role is to support U.S. Northern Command's efforts to provide assistance for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts.
Officials said the Category 4 storm, which made landfall on Oct. 10, killed at least 32 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Weiler said almost 60 Florida Wing members, all volunteers in the Air Force auxiliary, were deployed to assist the 1st Air Force, FEMA and the Florida Department of Emergency Management. The wing has flown almost 170 hours.
“This came despite many of the members being directly impacted by the storm,” he said.
Georgia Wing posted similar numbers, with 69 members deployed and has flown more than 145 flight hours.
The immediate emergency missions tasked to both the Florida and Georgia wings have been accomplished, said Col. Barry Melton, commander of CAP’s Southeast Region, which includes responsibility for the two states.
“CAP is now providing aerial imaging and reporting of conditions around points of distribution and other governmental and volunteer help centers,” Melton said. “This assures the centers are in the safest and most accessible locations for the citizens they are serving.”
Florida Wing Vice Commander Lt. Col. Rafael Salort said CAP will continue to respond to state and FEMA requests to support their activities, helping Florida residents recover from the storm.
“Our Florida Wing volunteer Airmen and partners have shown an outstanding level of dedication and professionalism during this hurricane preparedness and response efforts,” he said.
Lt. Col. Jerusha McLeod Dooley of the National Capital Wing in the District of Columbia, originally from the Destin, Florida area, got her first look at conditions near her hometown as sensor operator for the Surrogate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or SRPA.
CAP maintains the SRPA for training of U.S. military and coalition forces. It records high-resolution images and video in visual and near-infrared modes.
Georgia Wing is winding down its involvement. But the images members recorded on these missions are seared into their memories.
Mission pilot 1st Lt. Brian Mooney of the wing’s Brunswick squadron, flew extensively with fellow members 1st Lt. Tom Ireland of Savannah and Capt. Greg Moore, also of Brunswick.
“We were evaluating hospitals, farming areas and several other items of interest,” Mooney said of his survey of Georgia damage. “We could see huge old oak trees with immense root balls overturned, lots of roof damage and trees on houses.
“I know people are in distress," he said. “It is always hard to see these things.”
Georgia Wing Commander Col. Andrea Van Buren had nothing but praise for the service of her state’s members.
“Despite being in the path of the storm, Georgia Wing had members volunteering even before the mission became a reality,” she said. “Our incident commanders and support staff, our ground and air crews — all are to be commended for a job well done.”