San Salvador, El Salvador - Patrol Squadron (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 maritime patrol aircraft P-8A Poseidon flew the three and a half hour, 1850 mile flight from an airfield in El Salvador to the island country of Dominica, where the crew observed the scale of the disaster caused by the hurricane.
"We saw the coastline first, and it was devastated," said Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 2nd Class Tiffany Escoffrey. "Buildings all along were without roofs, leaving just the bare frame. 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 5 force of Hurricane Maria, and the island's remote location mixed with lack of search and rescue capabilities made damage assessment 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 U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of responsibility (AOR), VP-5 took full advantage of the plane's speed, staying power, and integrated technology suite to complete this mission. The rotating camera 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 further details 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 Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 2nd Class 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 U.S. Navy personnel in El Salvador for analysis and quick dissemination to decision makers.
"I feel like these missions are really fulfilling," said Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 2nd Class Rachel Slate. "Like I'm giving back to people and having a direct impact on their lives."