MCCHORD AFB, Wash. & It’s like a page from a script right out of a Hollywood movie. A McChord C-17 aircraft was diverted Friday to fly a nine-member Army Burn Center Flight Team from Lackland AFB, Texas, to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, to care for six Navy Sailors burned when a steam line ruptured onboard the USS Frank Cable, a naval submarine tender based in Guam.
The McChord aircrew, from the Air Force Reserve’s 728th Airlift Squadron, was supporting an Air Force Civic Leader Outreach Tour, transporting nearly 30 Hollywood entertainment producers, screen writers and production artists from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to Lackland. After returning the Hollywood civic leaders to March, the C-17 aircrew was supposed to return to McChord. Instead, the McChord aircrew left March and flew to Hickam to deliver the Department of Defense’s only specialized burn center team.
The crew was due to arrive about three hours before the Sailors would arrive at Tripler Medical Center in Hawaii, said Army Col. Dave Barillo, a critical care surgeon and the officer in charge of the team from Fort Sam Houston, Texas. “The Sailors were being flown on an aeromedical evacuation mission from Guam to Hickam. We are bringing with us the capabilities of a six-bed (Intensive Care Unit).”
Colonel Barillo said the Sailors suffered steam burns over 20 to 70 percent of their bodies. He said that five, but possibly six Sailors were on lung ventilators.
The plan, according to Colonel Barillo, is to stabilize the Sailors at Tripler and then fly them to the Brooke Army Medical Center’s burn center, at Fort Sam Houston, as soon as possible.
“On this mission, we have two teams in Hawaii,” Colonel Barillo said. “This way, if one or more of the Sailors aren’t stable enough to fly to Texas, we can leave a team in Hawaii to help care for them while we transport the other patients to Brooke. But the important thing is we’ll be there to provide highly specialized burn care the minute (the Sailors) arrive in Hawaii.”
Colonel Barillo said he hopes to be able to transport the Sailors on a C-17 because it’s the best equipped aircraft to transport critically injured patients. The McChord aircrew hopes they’re able to transport the patients back to Texas.
Lt. Col. David DeGennaro, the aircraft commander and the 728th AS commander, has already informed the mission planners in Hawaii that the aircrew will take the minimum ground time if there is a chance to transport one or more patients back to Texas.
“If you talk with any aircrew member who has the opportunity to fly real-world aeromedical evacuation missions, they’ll tell you that those are the most personal, rewarding missions there are,” Colonel DeGennaro said. “I talked it over with the rest of the four-member aircrew and they didn’t hesitate in supporting this mission & this is one we just have to do.”
Making up the team are two critical care surgeons, two intensive care nurses, two respiratory therapists, two licensed vocational nurses, and one operations noncommissioned officer. According to Army Capt. Thomas Derion, a registered nurse for the team, they were notified at about 7:30 Friday morning about the mission. Less than eight hours later, the team and its 5,000 pounds of cargo lifted off from Lackland to start its mission onto Hickam.
Master Sgt. Rich Lutz, a C-17 loadmaster, said it only took about 30 minutes to load and secure the burn team’s cargo. Otherwise, all he had to do was call his family in Graham, Wash., to let them know he wouldn’t be home as planned Friday evening.
“We got word about the mission around 9:30 (Friday morning),” Sergeant Lutz said. “We’d never turn down a mission like this & not ever.”
At this time, four C-17s, including the 728th aircrew, are on standby at Hickam, waiting for the Sailors to be considered stable enough to fly.