Peru 1970

International Operation Name: N/A

International Operation Dates:  N/A

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  South America

Location:  Peru

Canadian Operation Name:

Canadian Operation Dates: 1970/06/05 – 1970/07/14 

Mission Mandate:

To support the Government of Peru in activities related to the relief of victims on the results of an earthquake in that country.

Mission Notes: 

At 3:24 PM, 31 May 1970, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Huascara region of Peru, devastating the Callejon De Huaylas (Huaylas valley).  Besides the damage caused by the tremors, a rock and snow avalanche buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca, causing over 18,000 fatalities.  Overall, 66,794 people perished and 800,000 were left homeless.  That evening the President of Peru, Juan Velasco Alvarado, requested international assistance. 

At the request of the Department of External Affairs, the CF performed a staff check and advised that the dispatch of five Caribou, and one Hercules as support, would be the most valuable contribution.  The Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, approved this suggestion on 5 June.  424 Squadron had been placed on alert the day before.  On 6 June, all six aircraft departed CFB Trenton, and via Florida and Panama, arrived in Peru in the evening of 8 June after a 3,800 mile journey. 

The first real missions began on 9 June when, after just three hours of sleep, and having taken on Peruvian pilots as guides, the crews of four Caribous carefully tossed out bundles of blankets and clothing to stranded villages along the route.   

Anta, the only airfield in the disaster area to remain open, was the hub of the relief effort.  To reach this area, the pilots had to fly at over 14,500 feet to cross a mountain range, fly through windy, steep-sided valleys before coming down at a steep angle of descent onto the 3,000 foot gravel runway, located at an elevation of 8,700 feet.  The danger of the flying can be judged by the fact that in the first week, three American helicopters, one Argentian Fokker F-27, and one Peruvian helicopter had already crashed in the valleys and mountain passes.

The pace of activities was also very grueling.  Given the complete breakdown of the electrical grid, the Anta valley was pitch black from about 4:00 PM, and all flying had therefore to be squeezed into the daylight hours.  Given the limited space on the airfield, moreover, there was no time or space to loiter, and the goal was to load and unload in under twenty minutes.

By Monday, 15 June, LCol Butchart called a one-day halt to operations to let air and ground crew rest.  Both were tired from the long days and from the high altitude. By that time, 49 flights were made bringing in over 90-tons of relief and evacuating over 800 people.  The initial flights brought in relief supplies and took out the injured.  The initial supplies were mainly plasma, hypodermics, vaccines and plaster-of-paris.  It then shifted to food, drinking water, blankets and warm, clothes to aid survivors until the roads could be re-opened.

Operations into Anta resumed on 16 June, but the effort to open roads and new airfields went ahead very quickly and by 20 June an airfield at Caras, north of Yanguay, was opened, although its 1500 foot runway limited access to Caribous and helicopters.    Two days later, the runways at Anta were lengthened to allow French Air Force Transalls and American Hercules to land there, expanding the relief effort.  Still, the unique STOL capabilities and high lift capacity of the Caribous made them extremely useful in opening transport to new fields.  

Airlift was not the only Canadian Forces contribution to the disaster relief effort.  On 14 June, a group of 12 technicians arrived in aircraft from Canada to install seven donated electrical generators.  One generator arrived by Hercules with the techs on 14 June, with the remaining six arriving on two Hercules on 16 June.  After assembling the generators, the decision was made on 18 June to send three to the city of Trujillo, for which the generators departed by road and the four technicians by air.  A further three were installed in the Huaraz area and one in Santiago de Chuco, the technicians and generators taking roads to these locations. 

The last relief flight occurred on 26 June.  By that time there had been 97 flights, involving 382 flying hours, carrying over 180 tons of emergency supplies and transporting 1,903 homeless, injured and orphaned civilians out of the disaster area.  The last personnel from 424 Squadron left on 30 June, followed by the last of the technicians on 14 July.

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