Schenectady County

Air National Guard members safe, unharmed after New Zealand quake

Twenty-six members of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing are safe and accounted fo

Twenty-six members of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing are safe and accounted for in New Zealand following the 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

Col. Timothy LaBarge, the 109th commander, told reporters this morning that he received e-mails Monday evening local time from his officers and senior enlisted personnel in the field that everyone is unharmed and equipment undamaged.

“We’re making very good progress to have everybody depart New Zealand per schedule,” he said.

One LC-130 plane should be taking off today with another one Wednesday. All members of the 109th should return to the Capital Region by Sunday or Monday.

Guard officials were in Christchurch, New Zealand, the city at the center of the earthquake, as part of their Operation Deep Freeze, which runs from mid-October to mid-February, assisting the National Science Foundation in Antarctica with its research on climate change.

Christchurch is a fueling stop and also where they perform maintenance on the planes. The guard’s mission was over and so the members were scheduled to return home anyway, regardless of the earthquake, LaBarge said.

At the time of the earthquake, which took place Tuesday in New Zealand, most of the 109th Airlift Wing were either at the airport — located about 6 to 8 miles from the city center — or in one of two nearby hotels, according to LaBarge. He did not know about the extent of the damage to the hotels but said the airport had water, electricity and food.

During the peak of the guard’s mission, about 130 people were shuttling between Christchurch and Antarctica. Now, there are about 30 to 40.

One of the planes will remain behind for additional maintenance. A C-5 Stewart Air National Guard is already headed back to Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh.

LaBarge added that the guard, which operates out of the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville, would be willing to provide any assistance to the earthquake victims if it is possible.

Next month, it will redeploy to Greenland for another mission.

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