WASHINGTON - All 26 members of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, currently deployed in support of Operation Deep Freeze, are safe and unharmed after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the New Zealand capitol of Christchurch today.
The Air Guard wing will remain in Christchurch and are scheduled to begin returning home this week on two of the unit's three LC-130 Hercules cargo planes, which are a ski-equipped version of the Hercules used in the Arctic and Antarctic, Air Force Col. Timothy LaBarge said today.
“We’re making very good progress to have everybody depart New Zealand per schedule,” he said.
Another LC-130 will remain in New Zealand for planned maintenance.
The Guardmembers were in Christchurch as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which runs from mid-October to mid-February, assisting the National Science Foundation in Antarctica with climate change research.
Christchurch is a maintenance and re-fueling location for Operation Deep Freeze.
The Guard’s mission had completed Feb. 13, and the Guardmembers were already scheduled to return back to New York, regardless of the earthquake, LaBarge said.
At the time of the earthquake, most of the 109th Airlift Wing was either at the airport, which is located about eight miles from the center of Christchurch, or in one of two nearby hotels, he said.
The extent of damage to the hotels is currently unknown, but the airport had water, electricity and food, he said.
LaBarge added that, if called upon, the Guard will provide any assistance to the earthquake victims if possible.