Saturday, February 28, 2009

Military aircrafts are moved to McChord due to volcanic activity in Alaska

U.S. Air Force aircraft and personnel are being relocated from Alaska to McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma as a precautionary measure due to heightened activity at Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano.

The relocation, while temporary, is expected to last two to four weeks at a minimum, said Master Sgt. Dean J. Miller, a spokesman for the McChord base.

The aircraft and personnel are coming to McChord from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, which is located about 100 miles from the Redoubt volcano.

The mountain began rumbling back to life several days ago, and activity has been increasing ever since. Gas and steam billowed from the mountain's flank over the weekend.

Alaska volcanoes typically start with an explosion that can shoot ash 50,000 feet high and into the jet stream. The ash can damage or foul aircraft engines in the vicinity.

The Redoubt volcano last erupted in 1989, when it sent out an ash cloud that flamed out the jet engines of a KLM flight carrying 231 passengers on its way to Anchorage. The jet dropped more than two miles before pilots were able to restart the engines and land safely.

The volcano observatory a week ago detected a sharp increase in earthquake activity below the volcano and upgraded its alert level to orange, one stage below red for a full eruption.

The Air Force sent three cargo aircraft from Elmendorf to McChord on Saturday and three more are expected Sunday night. Other aircraft may arrive within the next 24 to 48 hours.

McChord's own C-17 strategic airlift mission makes the base ideally suited to host the relocated aircraft and allows the Elmendorf airmen to continue to meet mission and training requirements, said Col. Jeffrey Stephenson, McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing commander.

"Our ability to quickly receive additional air power on short notice and continue to support the nation's worldwide strategic airlift requirements is a capability long-associated with McChord," Stephenson said.

"We've supported evacuations in the past, and we will gladly support our fellow airmen from Elmendorf as long as they need us."

If and when an eruption begins, it is expected to cause disruptions for civilian aircraft as well, officials said.

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