Civil Air Pa­trol in Md. rel­ishes chance to help

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

Maj. Don­ald Ells had heard re­ports of flood­ing around Ni­chols, S.C.

But when Ells, an aerial pho­tog­ra­pher in the Maryland Wing of the Civil Air Pa­trol, flew over the hur­ri­cane-rav­aged town this week, he saw it was al­most com­pletely sub­merged.

“They didn’t know the over­all dev­as­ta­tion of it un­til we were able to pro­vide those pho­tos back to county plan­ners and FEMA,” Ells said on the tar­mac at Martin State Air­port on Tues­day. “All of the roads in and out of this area were com­pletely flooded or washed out.”

Ells’ team is one of sev­eral from the Maryland Wing that have been drafted this week to help the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency as­sess the dam­age wrought by Hur­ri­cane Matthew.

The storm, blamed for hun­dreds of deaths in the Caribbean, was a cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane when it made U.S. land­fall in South Carolina on Satur­day.

The Civil Air Pa­trol, a non­profit, al­lvol­un­teer aux­il­iary to the Air Force, is called up after dis­as­ters to fly its dis­tinc­tive red-white-and-blue planes and pro­vide de­tailed aerial pho­to­graphs to help authorities get a sense of how wide­spread prob­lems are.

It’s one of sev­eral mis­sions the or­ga­ni­za­tion ful­fills. Founded in 1941 to aid the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II, the Civil Air Pa­trol started out by pro­vid­ing courier services, watch­ing the bor­ders and guard­ing the coast­line against sub­marines.

Dur­ing the Cold War, the or­ga­ni­za­tion took ra­di­o­log­i­cal air sam­ples after atomic bomb tests and trained to as­sist authorities after a nu­clear at­tack.

Now mem­bers par­tic­i­pate in search-

and-res­cue ef­forts, keep an eye on boaters on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and re­spond to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

Mem­bers aren’t paid to go on mis­sions, so they have been ro­tat­ing in and out of the flooded re­gions. Ells and two other mem­bers re­turned to Maryland Tues­day after two days; they are to be re­placed by a fresh crew later in the week.

Some mem­bers of the Maryland Wing were headed Tues­day to North Carolina, which saw some of the worst flood­ing.

In South Carolina, the Civil Air Pa­trol flew along rivers first, then fol­lowed a set of grids to map en­tire coun­ties, to take pic­tures to share with fed­eral and state offi- cials for anal­y­sis.

Col. Jerry Weiss, vice com­man­der of a group of state level wings stretch­ing from Delaware to South Carolina, over­saw the oper­a­tion from a com­mand post at the Columbia air­port. On Mon­day alone, he said, crews flew 20 sor­ties, and de­liv­ered crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion.

“When we dis­cov­ered the one town un­der wa­ter they started mov­ing their swift-wa­ter peo­ple in that di­rec­tion,” he said.

Ni­chols sits near the con­flu­ence of the Pee Dee and Lum­ber rivers. Just after the Maryland crew flew over the town, mil­i­tary he­li­copters ar­rived. It turned out 150 peo­ple were stranded and had to be evac­u­ated. The wa­ters aren’t ex­pected to re­cede be­fore Fri­day.

Maj. John Ralph, an en­gi­neer at Northrop Grum­man, zipped along at 130 miles per hour, just 1,000 feet above the ground. That’s too low for au­topi­lot, mean­ing he had to con­cen­trate for hours on end.

“From 1,000 feet you can pick out peo­ple,” he said. “If it was some­body you know, you might ac­tu­ally rec­og­nize them.”

It’s also easy to get a sense of the scale of the de­struc­tion caused by the storm. The hur­ri­cane left at least 30 peo­ple dead in the United States and dam­aged thou­sands of homes.

“You’re al­ways fo­cused on flying, but it’s hard not to feel quite a lot of sym­pa­thy for peo­ple whose houses you see that are com- Col. Jerry Weiss with the Civil Air Pa­trol after re­turn­ing from South Carolina. pletely wiped out,” Ralph said.

To­day the Civil Air Pa­trol has 56,000 mem­bers na­tion­wide and a fleet of 550 air­craft. The Maryland Wing has 1,400 mem­bers and op­er­ates about a dozen air­craft.

While the Civil Air Pa­trol has a mil­i­tary struc­ture and mem­bers


Maj. Don­ald Ells was the pho­tog­ra­pher with the Maryland Wing of the Civil Air Pa­trol shoot­ing aeri­als of towns in South Carolina to help as­sess flood­ing dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Matthew. He stands next to the Cessna 182 that he flew.


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