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USMC Recovery of Harrier Crash Site

By Sgt. Bill Waterstreet | | June 7, 2014


In response to an AV-8B Harrier II crash in a residential area of Imperial, Calif., Wednesday, Navy and Marine Corps personnel, as well as local firefighters, policemen, and government officials, have been hard at work at the scene resolving the crisis and conducting the recovery process.

Military personnel from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., MCAS Miramar, Calif., and Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., traveled quickly from their resident installations on June 4 to partner with emergency responders from the local area. The quick actions by all parties involved mitigated damage from this tragic accident.

“The crash truck…focused on the crash debris from the aircraft… and the two fire engines went to each side of the structures on fire and began an aggressive attack to contain the fires,” said Tony Rouhotas Jr., the fire chief of Imperial County Fire Department and the office of emergency services coordinator. “I was very pleased with my personnel and the response… We did an outstanding job for an incident you do not encounter on a daily basis.”

From the start, military and civilian organizations have been working side-by-side to safely and efficiently recover the affected area. 

 “It was really nice when the military personnel started showing up, because we started placing them in areas of concern,” added Rouhotas. “Anytime we have any kind of large-scale incident, security is a large concern of ours, and the military was an awesome help with that...I’ve worked with the military in the past, and I’ve never had a bad experience, but I was pleasantly surprised with the work of the military when they came in. What they were able to offer, and just the coordination of efforts, was really nice to see.”

“As a community we are trying to work very closely with the military,” said Marlene Best, the city manager for the city of Imperial. ”The most important thing is to make sure the residents are taken care of…At the same time, the city of Imperial has a very strong relationship with the military through NAF El Centro, and we want to support the desires of the Navy, the military, and the Marines to resolve whatever caused this crash.”

As of Friday, military cleanup operations are taking place at the scene, and military investigators work diligently at the epicenter of the impact to gather evidence vital to discovering the cause of the crash. In conjunction with the investigation, recovery efforts also focus on the center of the site, collecting every piece of the aircraft possible, large and small.

“We have assigned officers who came out to the scene here to determine what some of the causal factors are and gathered evidence so we can use those to try to make a more safe environment for flying,” said Lt. Col. John Ferguson, the executive officer of Marine Aircraft Group 13 and one of the senior Marines on-site.  “We have a team of trained people from different specialties in the Marine Corps who’ll…find out all the information they can. Then, they’ll sit down and determine what the most likely cause of this mishap is.”

Over the coming days, heavy military equipment will be used in the area for cleanup purposes, and residents are advised to follow the instructions of military personnel on-scene to ensure their safety, which is the top priority of the Marine Corps.

Already, instrumentation has been installed to monitor levels of airborne particulates at the crash site and surrounding area, to ensure safe air quality. Should levels become higher than normal, local residents will be informed immediately.

Local and military officials have been working tirelessly to significantly reduce the impact the recovery process has on the community. From sunrise to sundown, the Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 have been cleaning the area, trying to restore the neighborhood quickly with as little disruption to the surrounding area as possible. Additionally, the cordon perimeter has been made smaller to allow the community a semblance of normalcy in their day-to-day lives.  More importantly, after extensive coordination between military and city water department officials, the affected families had very little disruption in their utilities during excavation.

Furthermore, the MCAS Yuma environmental department has been conducting operations to make sure the local environment is properly cared for. Soil samples have been taken during excavation to determine the extent of contamination in the soil, and what needs to be done to repair any damage. Even after cleanup is complete, the environmental department will stay involved in the area to restore it completely.

“The environmental department stays involved with this until the last effort,” said David Rodriguez, the environmental director of MCAS Yuma. “We will always restore the environment to the best we can and bring it back to its most natural state.”

Through these efforts and future planning, the Marine Corps maintains that the safety and support of the families affected is their first priority.

“The number one thing we are trying to do is make sure the families have all their necessities taken care of,” said Ferguson. “We have to show faith to the community. It’s important that they understand that we care about them…We’re a family…and we realize the community is a very important part of this family. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the community is taken care of.”

“The city has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its residents, and the military has taken a huge proactive approach in assisting us to making that happen,” said Rouhotas while speaking to a group of Marines. “You have reached out to the homeowners, which is extremely generous. We know this is because of an accident, but it’s still nice to see you putting your hand out there and saying, ‘Let’s help us take care of you,’ while you’re still keeping the city in mind…It really says a lot to the citizens as well that we, as the city, and you, as the federal government, are joining teams to make their lives as good as they were before the incident.”

While the military works to care for the community, the surrounding neighborhood has returned the gesture in kind. The day after the crash, a local resident even purchased dozens of pizzas to feed the Marines at the scene.

“They all are asking how the pilot’s doing,” added Ferguson. “I’m more concerned how they and their families are doing.”

This same high level of cooperation has been echoed throughout all levels of interactions between the military, local authorities, and the community.

“The relationship we’ve had with the community has been outstanding – very supportive community all the way down from the city manager, the fire chief, the police department, the red cross – every single agency has been absolutely outstanding, with great relationships, and it just goes to show that the relationship we have with the community is strong and that’s our goal – to maintain that,” said Ferguson.

While this accident is a regrettable tragedy, the Marine Corps remains committed to the care of all those affected and dedicated to restoring the peace that has been interrupted.

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