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Puerto Rico Air National Guard supports hurricane evacuation of over 1,000 U.S. citizens from the island of St. Maarten

  • Published
  • By Capt. Claudia Villasenor
  • 156th Airlift Wing
The 156th Airlift Wing deployed Puerto Rico Air National Guard aircrew members on two WC-130H Hercules aircraft to support hurricane rescue efforts of over 1,000 U.S. citizens from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, Sept. 9.

Amidst the wing recovery process following the passage of Hurricane Irma, the 156AW provided operational support to the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing and the New York ANG's 106th Rescue Wing that arrived to Muñiz ANGB Thursday evening to establish the staging platform for the St. Maarten hurricane evacuation.

At 6:30 a.m., the National Guard Bureau Readiness Center Crisis Action Team contacted the Puerto Rico National Guard to assess aircraft availability to support hurricane evacuation efforts of over 600 U.S. citizens stranded on the island of St. Maarten following the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.

“The Puerto Rico National Guard has shown once again its commitment to help our Caribbean neighbors in times of need. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by this hurricane,” said the Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera.

With Muñiz ANGB as the staging area, the Air National Guard airlift rescue operation consists of six C-130 Hercules aircraft and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that are shuttling U.S. citizens from Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Maarten to the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico. The one-way flight time between the islands on a C-130 is approximately 45 minutes in duration and each airframe has a maximum passenger capacity that will require multiple flights throughout the day to meet the passenger evacuation requirements.

“The 156th Airlift Wing is always ready to provide support and service to our fellow guardsmen and aid to those in need,” said Col. Raymond Figueroa, 156th Airlift Wing commander. “I am proud of our Airmen for their quick response in recovering our wing after Hurricane Irma and taking action in rescuing others from further hurricane devastation. We are here to help.”

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, along with members of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, Aerostar Airport Holdings, LLC, and several government agencies and local first responders joined in the collaborative efforts to provide support to the rescued hurricane evacuees by providing a welcome center at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport.

After 11 flights and over nine hours of flight time, aircrew members from the Puerto Rico, Kentucky and New York Air National Guard evacuated an additional 428 U.S. citizens more than originally projected for a total of 1,028 U.S. citizens rescued from the island of St. Maarten.