By Florencia Lucero Heguy
Since the pandemic began, several Latin American countries have been making repatriation flights, transport of patients, materials, among others, with the aim of helping the needs of the population.
This unique moment in the history of the world, such as the pandemic that we are going through, has people in suspense who, of different nationalities, were and are outside their home countries. Each country is repatriating its citizens according to security protocols, according to each case. The Armed Forces are not oblivious to these circumstances, since they are actively working to carry out this particular, cumbersome situation, full of uncertainty, fear and anguish.
The complicated return home includes journeys in middle of the closing of borders around the world, suspension of flights, blocking of routes, the chaotic reorganization of the airlines and the impossibility of some cruise ships to dock, among others.
Many Latin American countries had the ability to anticipate the terrible events and began to get down to work, joining efforts to get ahead and fight, hand in hand, the Coronavirus.
Mexico and Uruguay were the pioneers in Latin America in repatriating their citizens from the city of Wuhan, China. The Government of Uruguay turned to France to facilitate the evacuation of its two citizens in the Chinese city.
During March, Uruguay also carried out a flight to Peru with the aim of helping the Uruguayans who were stranded there after the closure of borders decreed as a preventive measure to avoid the spread of Covid-19. One was from the Amaszonas company, which went on a mission as a Uruguayan state plane to organize the return of almost 90 compatriots who were in Cuzco, and another was an Embraer Brasilia from the Uruguayan Air Force to repatriate 34 compatriots who were in Lima. At the same time, 65 Peruvian citizens who were in Uruguay were returned on those two flights to their country. Since the quarantine began, a large number of repatriation flights have already been made to places such as Lima, Buenos Aires, Quito, San Pablo, Bogotá, Santiago de Chile and French Guyana with the Embraer 120, C-130 Hercules and CASA C-212 aircraft of the Uruguayan Air Force.
The repatriation process from Mexico began on January 23 with the return of three Mexicans who were in Wuhan and continues to this day. Two Mexican Air Force planes searched for 280 Mexicans in Buenos Aires, another did it 130 in Havana, 400 Mexicans managed to return from Peru, and 140 more boarded a repatriation flight from London, among other operations. It should be noted that Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay carried out a joint humanitarian operation for reciprocal repatriation that benefited 386 citizens of the four countries. As a result, 160 Mexicans affected by mobility restrictions in the three countries and 65 Chileans who remained in Argentina were repatriated, as well as 123 Argentines and 38 Uruguayan nationals stranded in Mexico.
The first operations that were carried out in Argentina, when the quarantine began, were the reconnaissance missions over the main cities, to help the security forces verify how the population was complying with the lockdown. In this way, the Bell 412 helicopters of the Air Force, the Bell Huey 2, Aerospatiale Lamas and Bell 206 of the Army began to carry out daily missions in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Córdoba, Comodoro Rivadavia, Posadas, Salta and other cities. In Buenos Aires, the Assault Helicopter Battalion 601 is the main unit used for the task with their Huey 2s, in the activities on the city they were joined by the Agusta AB-206, which are in service with the 602 Exploration and Attack Aviation Squadron.
Other Army Aviation activities include medical evacuation, liaison, and transportation with 601 Combat Support Aviation Battalion, also in Campo de Mayo, equipped with Casa 212-100, DHC-6-200 and -300 Twin Otter, Cessna 500 Citation I, Cessna Citation Bravo 550, and Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX.
On the other hand, the Argentine Air Force made in April a dozen flights to Peru and two to Ecuador with C-130 Hercules planes, to repatriate Argentines stranded there, which continued in May. Likewise, a humanitarian flight was made with the Fokker F28 registration TC-52 of the Argentine Air Force, where 54 stranded people returned from São Pablo, Brazil. The operation was completed thanks to the joint work of the Ministry of Defense, its health counterpart and the Argentine Foreign Ministry, within the framework of the work being carried out by the National State in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It should be noted that, within the Argentine territory, flights were made with Fokker F28, Saab 340 and Hercules from the Air Force to transfer biosecurity and protection materials and with Texan II, Mentor, Cessna 182 and Piper Cherokee to carry tests of the suspected Covid-19 cases. In addition, reconnaissance and transport missions are underway, bringing medical supplies and personnel to isolated cities.
Chile, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, managed to carry out flights from Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Punta Cana and Miami, among others, with the aim of repatriating its stranded citizens around the world.
The Air Force carried out aeromedical evacuations, highlighting that of two critically ill patients from Rapa Nui, Easter Island, who were diagnosed with pneumonia and required a complex isolation system and advanced life support, with constant monitoring provided by the Medical Aeroevacuation Team of the Institutional Health Division.
A DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft from the 3rd Air Brigade of the Chilean Air Force evacuated a man who tested positive for Covid-19 from Chaitén, in an operation in which SAMU specialists also participated, providing life support to the patient to evacuate it safely.
In addition, the FACH transferred influenza vaccines in various parts of Chile, as well as using its aircraft to transport sanitary cargo, hospital supplies and support equipment.
In addition, in an operation that took 76 hours, the FACH Group No.10 Boeing 767-300ER flew to China between April 28 and May 1, to bring 117 respirators to its country.
In the case of Brazil, logistical air support is one of the many actions carried out by the Ministry of Defense. Military personnel of the Armed Forces participate in awareness-raising, vaccination and decontamination campaigns in public places. Likewise, the army works supporting health agencies by establishing detection stations, inspection of the entry and exit of passengers at borders, airports and ports; in addition to naval inspections throughout the national territory.
The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) transferred aircraft from different parts of the country to the Brasilia, Galeão and Santa Cruz Air Bases (the last two in Rio de Janeiro), with the aim of promoting the expansion of rapid response capacity to the demands that the Ministry of Defense requests in logistical actions to confront the Coronavirus. In total, five C-95 Bandeirante, five C-98 Caravan and two C-105 Amazonas were activated. In addition, the mobilization also includes organic planes from each base, including the C-130 Hercules, Embraer C-99, and C-97 Brasilia. A VC-99 aircraft, belonging to the Special Transport Group (GTE), was also made available for the operation, which was adapted to transport four thousand kilograms of cargo.
Operation COVID-19 is an inter-ministerial action, coordinated by the Aerospace Operations Command (COMAE) at the Joint Operations Center of the Ministry of Defense, in support of the Ministry of Health. Among other actions, a C-130 Hercules from the First Squadron of the First Transportation Group (1st/1st GT) – Fat Squadron, carried out the Logistic Air Transportation of health material and other items, from Wing 11 – Base from Galeão, in Rio de Janeiro, to Wing 8 – Manaus Air Base, in Amazonas. In addition, another C-130 of the 1st/1st GT provided support for the transport of 9.6 tons of alcohol gel and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Guarulhos (SP) to Recife (PE).
On February 5, two Embraer 190 VC-2s used for the presidential transport were dispatched to Wuhan with medical, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protection equipment on board, repatriating 34 Brazilians.
On March 25, two C-130 planes also took off from Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and Belém (PA) on a mission to rescue Brazilian citizens who were in the city of Cuzco, Peru, who were prevented from returning to Brazil due to the closure of borders.
On February 28, Colombia repatriated 35 citizens who were locked up in Wuhan, the birthplace of the coronavirus. This was achieved thanks to a Colombian Air Force plane that traveled to South Korea and from there was able to enter China. In addition, a flight under the coordination of the Foreign Ministry and the Colombian Embassy in Egypt transferred 59 Colombians who were in Cairo. In the case of the 150 Colombians stranded in Peru, it was a commercial flight that took them to their country.
For their part, 50 Colombians who were in the Dominican Republic returned to Colombia, in a joint effort between the two governments, where 20 Dominicans were also able to repatriate.
The Colombian Air Force also adapted an Airbus C-295 to be able to carry out the transport of up to two patients who are in places far from their country. Two hermetic capsules with monitoring equipment were installed to the plane, while aviation doctors and nurses will accompany the patientts throughout the flight. In this way, the patient enters the capsule in the hospital, from where they take him to the plane, which has the back completely isolated with special plastic, where the capsule goes with the patient accompanied by medical personnel, to that the crew does not have contact with the patients. So far, patients from the towns of Puerto Carreño and Leticia have been treated.
In the case of Peru, approximately 400 citizens were carried on flights from the United States, the Netherlands and France. On the other hand, a FAP L-100-20 Hercules plane took to the cities of Chiclayo and Piura a significant load of the Peruvian Social Security Health that contained personal protection materials, such as masks, gloves, aprons and disposable shoes for fight the virus. It should be noted that the Tumbes Air Detachment continues to carry out joint work that contributes to preventing the expansion of the Coronavirus, such as the control of military flights that transport people and support materials.
In addition, during the month of April, Peruvians who had been detained in Brazil were repatriated. So far, about 6,600 of the 18,000 who had requested repatriation abroad arrived at their homes.
The Paraguayan Air Force carries its citizens, uniting the localities that are needed. The Military Air Transport Service continues to reach the most remote points of the national geography, complying with the current health protocols and taking all preventive measures in the face of the health emergency situation. Currently, the normal itinerary is maintained, landing in the cities of Concepción, Vallemi, Fuerte Olimpo and Bahía Negra.
This tremendous virus caused that, for once in the history of humanity, we are all together united for the same cause. Unfortunately, it is a negative event, although it allowed the arrival of humanitarian aid from the military, doctors and nurses who, with courage and bravery, are participating in a real combat that they never thought would come. Are they winning the war? For now, they are only battling against an enemy that is not a country, a mortal enemy that lashes all of humanity.