Chile 1960

International Operation Name: not applicable

International Operation Dates: not applicable 

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  South America

Location:  Chile

Canadian Operation Name: (Chile 1960)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1960/05/26 – 1960/06/11

Mission Mandate: To airlift relief supplies to Chile and transport them within the country after a major earthquake

Mission Notes: 

Chile sits astride the Andean trench, a subduction zone where the Nazca plate slides under the South American plate.  The Andes mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world, have been pushed up as a result of this activity.  Another result is that Chile regularly receives earthquakes, and usually not small ones.  The Great Valparaiso earthquake of 1906 was a magnitude 8.6, the 1939 Chilean earthquake was an 8.3 while that in 1985 measured 7.8. 

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded worldwide occurred on 22 May 1960.  It measured 9.5, killed over 2000 people and left 2 million homeless.  The tsunami generated by the earthquake destroyed large areas of coastal Chile and crossed the Pacific Ocean, killing 61 in Hawaii, 138 in Japan and 32 in the Philippines.  A dormant Andean volcano, Cordon Caulle began erupting 2 days after the magnitude 9.5 earthquake.

An international effort ensued with the United States Army setting up a field hospital serving Valdivia and Puerto Montt and the United States Air Force being quite active in flying in supplies. Cuba, England, Germany and the Soviet Union all provided equipment and supplies. 

Canada responded to the international aid effort by placing 426 Squadron on stand-by on 26 May in preparation for delivering relief supplies and then being placed at the disposal of the Chilean Disaster Relief Committee in Santiago.  Supplies from both military and civilian sources were gathered across from Canada and shuttled to RCAF Station Trenton.

On 28 May, two North Stars departed RCAF Station Trenton, each with 5 tons of supplies including medicines and clothing.  Stopping in Panama City, Panama and lastly Lima, Peru, the two aircraft arrived in Santiago on 31 May, to be met by the Canadian Minister of External Affairs, Howard Green, who was on a trip to South America when the earthquake struck.  Three more North Stars followed on 31 May and 1 June.  Humanitarian supplies on these flights included flour and pork, as the area hit was the main food-producing region in the country, as well as blankets, medical supplies and tents.  Among the medical supplies delivered was a complete 30-bed Canadian Army field hospital, with a Royal Canadian Navy doctor to oversee its set-up.  Lieutenant E.Y. Porter also conducted reconnaissance in Chile to see where the hospital would be most needed.

Upon arrival in Santiago, the original two aircraft flew to Puerto Montt on 1 June, loaded with relief supplies.  On the return trip, one aircraft loaded 96 youths and two priests into the aircraft for the trip to Santiago.  The next day both aircraft flew to Antofagasta in northern Chile where they loaded bedding and blankets donated by the local people.  On the 3rd, more supplies were delivered to Puerto Montt. 

At this stage, the United States Air Force announced that they would be withdrawing most of their transport aircraft from Chile, as a result of the Gary Powers U-2 incident.  Although the Canadian North Stars had not been intended to stay in Chile for any lengthy period, the presence of Minister Green provided authorization to extend the mission in Chile to cover the shortfall.

All five RCAF aircraft conducted at least one flight within Chile, normally with a Chilean Air Force pilot as a guide.  Puerto Montt was the most common destination in the disaster zone, although the town of Victoria was also supplied.  One of the flights to Victoria delivered the complete 30-bed hospital with its own operating room and electrical generator.  From there it was taken by truck to Nueva Imperial which was unreachable by aircraft.

By 11 June, the last North Star left Santiago for the return trip to Canada. Over the course of the operation, 426 Squadron made 17 flights within the country, airlifted 25 tons of medical and relief supplies from Canada to Chile and a further 82 tons within Chile.  They also airlifted some 400 people from the disaster area to Santiago.

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