Wake Evacuated; Hickam C-17s airlift 188 people from tiny Pacific Island

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Leonhard
  • 15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
In a total force effort, 15th Airlift Wing and Hawaii Air National Guard members flew two C-17s to evacuate 188 personnel from Wake Island Monday, prior to Super Typhoon Ioke reaching the tiny U.S. Territory.

The evacuees were active-duty Airmen, DoD and Thai national contactors. The evacuees filed onto the Globemaster IIIs with morning sky not showing any signs of a category 5 super typhoon just hours away.

"We simply left the engines running on the planes, opened up the backdoors and on-loaded everybody," said Mission Commander Major James Hill, 535th Airlift Squadron. The entire process took less than 60 minutes and the two C-17s were rolling down Wake's runway en route back to Hawaii.

The Air Force personnel and contractors buttoned up the facilities as much as possible in the time they had to prepare for the storm. The super typhoon's eye is expected to come within 13 miles of Wake Island and an 18-foot storm surge and 40-foot waves are expected. The runway on Wake is just 14 feet above sea level. Wake Island is both a scientific outpost and a midpoint air base for Air Force jets flying across the Pacific Ocean.

"We went ahead and prepared all the facilities as best we could. (We) put sandbags around them, secured all the windows, the doors. We moved some of the supplies around so that we'll have generators hopefully keeping the freezers going while we're off island," said Capt. Nate Harris, Wake Island commander. "Now all we can do is sit and wait and see what damage occurs." The last evacuation from Wake was in 1967 when Typhoon Sarah engulfed the island.

According to the captain, a visual flyover will take place and then an assessment team will be sent back to the island, located 2,300 miles southwest of Honolulu, after the typhoon passes. 

"We will take an initial team in to do the assessment of all the facilities and the electricity and water and make sure it is safe before we bring everybody back," said Captain Harris, who's been on the island a little more than a month. 

Two people a little more familiar to the island are Jimmie and Petsy Taylor. The Taylor's are American contract workers who arrived in September 2005 and call Wake Island home. 

"We sold the house we lived in for 27 years and gave most of our stuff to our family to move here," said Mrs. Taylor. "I'm worried if the damage is too great, we may not have a place to call home." Mrs. Taylor is the technical librarian and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer, and her husband is the supervisor for the power plant on the island.
"We spent the past few days packing and covering everything we could," she said. "It's a wonderful place to live and I just hope I get to come back." 

According to the National Weather Service Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ioke was the strongest Central Pacific hurricane in more than decade. When it passed the International Date Line it was renamed as a typhoon. Classified as a Category 5 super typhoon, Ioke is expected to extensively damage the U.S. territory when it hits around 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday.