By Reggie Jarrett
Jax Air News Editor
Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville is assisting the devastated Texas and Louisiana coasts with P-8A Poseidons flying search and rescue (SAR) and reconnaissance missions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
The P-8s are equipped with infrared cameras that can locate survivors in the water and life-saving equipment that can be dropped from the aircraft if survivors are found.
The aircraft and its crew of nine spend about four to six hours patrolling the Texas and Louisiana coastlines after flying two hours to reach their destination.
"They will check in with a controlling agency over Texas and then go from there to establish a good position to give us an overall picture of the damage to start assessing where things are at," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Snyder, training officer with VP (Patrol Squadron) 45.
The aircraft would then fly two hours back to Jacksonville, for a total of eight to 10 hours flying time for each mission.
"They are capable of operating anywhere in the world," Snyder said, "but today the call came to support our fellow countryman here in the states."
"We were tasked to head over to the eastern Texas area and Beaumont to help the Air Force and Coast Guard noting areas of flooding, trying to isolate individuals who might be stranded somewhere," said Lt. Marcus Costa, VP-45 patrol plane mission commander of the flight on Aug. 31.
"They currently have a huge relief effort in Houston, whether that be locals out there on boats or Houston police department or Coast Guard helicopters, so was quite a showing out there today."
The mission flights are part search and rescue and part reconnaissance.
"A big portion of what we were looking for was making sure basic infrastructure like bridges were holding up and dams were not being over-run," Costa said.
"Luckily, with most of the weather heading out of the Houston area, we didn't see too much of that. We did see portions of highways shut down, roads leading into neighborhoods shut down that were no longer accessible by trucks or cars."
VP-45 is not the only command participating in the relief operations.
"All Wing 11 squadrons here have been supporting hurricane relief efforts or will over the next few days," Snyder said.
"The devastation is significant, we can all see that. It is quite possible we will do this for one to two weeks. We will be there to provide eyes with a broader view, a 10,000 foot view," he said.
"The mission is designed primarily for surveillance, so there will be heavy use of the onboard MX-20 camera and we will man the observer windows for the entire time on station."
The MX-20 camera is an electro-optical and infrared camera.
The P-8s were also equipped with potential life-saving equipment if rescue operations were needed. Loaded in the aircraft weapons bays were two newly developed SAR kits, which consisted of inflatable life rafts that could be dropped if survivors were spotted offshore. These missions are the first time the kits are being used by the U.S. Navy.
"The SAR kit is new to our community," said Snyder.
"It is dropped at roughly 500 feet. It deploys with a lanyard and expands out."
The kits also contain basic life-saving items. "The contents are tweaked for each mission," said AO2(AW) Reyna Thomas of VP-45.
"They usually contain water, food, medical supplies and signaling equipment."
The kits are not the best option to rescue people at sea. "It is kind of a one-shot opportunity," Snyder said. "We hope that for anyone in the water that there are more capable assets, like a Coast Guard ship or helicopter, but we can deploy them if need be."
The kits were not used in the missions to Texas, and the Poseidons were not called upon to undertake rescue operations, but the crews did see large rescue operations on the ground being conducted by ordinary people and local and federal agencies.
"They had a huge relief effort in Houston," Costa said.
"Whether that be locals out there on boats or Houston police department or Coast Guard helicopters, there quite a showing out there. People trying to help their community."
That spirit of wanting to help storm victims extends back to NAS Jacksonville.
"We all are called to serve. We are a volunteer force, so everyone on this flight line is willing to go," said Snyder.
"We had phone calls from people saying, 'I am willing to go. I am assigned to a staff job, but if you need help, I am ready to go.'"
"It is a simple thing," Snyder said.
"Human life is precious. This is one of the most significant disasters the U.S. has seen in a long time, if not the largest. It is important that we all pitch in to help our country out."