Sgt. 1st Class Clayton Perreira, a crew chief from Detachment 1, Charlie Co. 207th Aviation of the Hawaii Army National Guard, uses a UH-60 Black Hawk’s communication system May 11, 2018, at Lyman Airfield in Hilo, Hawaii. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air National Guard
U.S. Army National Guard helicopters are on standby in Hawaii, ready to evacuate as many as 200 people an hour from the path of lava that continues to spew from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano.
About 380 National Guard troops are keeping six UH-60 and HH-60 Black Hawks at the ready for an evacuation order if the situation deteriorates to where people are in immediate danger, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Elva Schaben of the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Schaben is in charge of manpower and personnel for the Guard’s Operation Ho’opalekana volcano response effort.
U.S. Marines from the base at Kaneohe Bay also have provided two CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, Schaben said during a Wednesday teleconference update on the operation.
“We could possibly accommodate 400 personnel within a four-hour period on a UH-60, but of course it would include all six UH-60s to do so,” she said. “We could probably do the same with the CH-53s because you can fit more passengers in that aircraft.”
Those six Black hawks are assigned to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade based at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu, Schaben said.
At least two people have been plucked from the lava’s path by the Hilo Police Department, which the military was called in to assist.
“As we stood up this operation on May 14, the Hawaii National Guard, which includes both Army and Air Guard personnel were activated to support the volcanic activity,” Schaben said. “Our mission here is to save lives, prevent human suffering and to allow the people affected by the volcanic activity to live their lives as best as they possibly can.”
During the first two weeks of the eruption, personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, Navy and both the Army and Air National Guard have participated in the response operation, Schaben said. Soldiers still are providing security and perform roving patrols in the areas affected by the lava flows, she said.
A National Guard Civil Support Team are monitoring levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide near the volcanic activity. Those foul-smelling, toxic gases were released by fissures in the earth opened by the volcanic eruption, Schaben said. In all operations, safety is paramount, she added.
“Our aircraft, when they do fly, they have been ordered that they will not fly directly over the lava,” Schaben said.