As Haiti reels from a deadly earthquake over the weekend, the U.S. government and military have stepped up to assist with relief efforts in the wake of the devastation.
Crews out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville have been part of that effort, flying a P8 Poseidon aircraft over the Caribbean country to survey the damage from above and help those on the ground provide medical aid to the wounded and injured.
News4Jax traveled with a patrol squadron crew during one of its missions Thursday, seeing some of the damage left behind from roughly 10,000 feet in the air during the 10-hour flight.
Crew members said their mission is to help save lives and it’s rewarding to help a country in need.
“Missions like this, it brings crew great pride,” said Lt. Cmdr. Darryl Abriam, the mission commander and tactical coordinator.
Kevin Pahalek, the primary acoustic operator, echoed that sentiment, saying missions like the flight over Haiti are the reason he joined the Navy in the first place.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger than I was back home,” Pahalek told News4Jax. “I graduated high school, I didn’t have any plans, I was just Free Willy. Then I joined the Navy, so I could be part of something big like this.”
Once the aircraft arrived, Pahalek operated the camera to provide a birds-eye view of the damage in Haiti, where 2,100 people died, and thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed by the quake.
The crew was tasked with surveying damage in 70 different areas.
“I’ll get eyes on an area,” Pahalek said. “I’ll note anything of worthiness – if buildings are broken, if there’s any people displaced from the area, if they’re congregating and any type of health or medical providers as well.”
The aircraft never touched the ground, but cameras allowed the crew to scope out makeshift homes made from tents in soccer stadiums. The crew also communicated with different agencies to let them know where to send injured patients.
“We got to work again with the helicopters on station, we got to relay the communications for them, to let them know where to go with the med evacs and to get them back to the hospital safely,” Cpt. Matt Pottenburgh told News4Jax.
Crew members said their mission will continue as long as they’re needed. And while it’s difficult to see the type of damage and devastation they found in Haiti, they’re grateful to be able to help.
“Any type of help that we can provide to them is outstanding,” Pahalek said.