By Ensign Chris Siegel
VP-5 Public Affairs
Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5) took part in the search and rescue efforts in Dominica after the island nation was devastated by Hurricane Maria in mid-September.
One of VP-5's P-8A Poseidons flew the three and a half hour, 1,850 mile flight from an airfield in El Salvador to the island of Dominica, where the crew got a first eyes-on look at the scale of the disaster below along the twisted coastline.
"We saw the coastline first, and it was devastated," said AWO2 Tiffany Escoffrey. "Buildings all along were without roofs, leaving just the bare frame and there was so much debris in places we couldn't see the beach sand."
Located in the Eastern Caribbean, Dominica was the first Island to be hit by the category-five force of Hurricane Maria, and the island's remote location mixed with lack of search and rescue capabilities made damage assessment extremely difficult. The storm had already claimed 32 lives and the need for overhead imagery was vital to identifying possible helicopter landing zones and assessing damage to facilities like roads, airports and hurricane shelters.
Stepping up for the first ever P-8A mission supporting the SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR), VP-5 took full advantage of the plane's speed, staying power and integrated technology suite to tackle this mission. The powerful, rotating camera in particular was vital for the mission, giving the crew a 360-degree field of view to assess the breadth of the damage, and also zooming down to reveal the situation at ground level.
"The soccer fields being used for helicopter evacuation were usually clear of debris, but the ability for people to move around the island was severely restricted - roads were either obstructed by fallen powerlines or washed out completely, " said AWO2 Adam Huszar. "We only saw two cars driving, everyone else was walking."
With rescue missions still underway, the P-8A's imagery was sent back to the Intel team in El Salvador for analysis and quick dissemination direct to decision makers. Knowledge is power in Dominica's long road to recovery and VP-5 is proud to be called on to help.
"I feel like these missions are really fulfilling," says AWO2 Rachel Slate. "Like I'm giving back to people and having a direct impact on their lives."
VP-5 has just begun a split-site deployment in the SOUTHCOM and EUCOM AOR.