Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) service members wake up every morning knowing that this might be a mission day, whether they will be responding to an emergency search, helping victims of a natural disaster, operating in support of public safety or transporting an organ for transplantation into a designated recipient.
And these operations are not limited to Brazilian territory. Since the beginning of the year, FAB has provided assistance to neighboring countries on three different occasions. In February it employed a C-130 Hercules aircraft to fight more than 100 fire hotspots in Chile’s forests. At the beginning of April, it deployed150 service members and two aircraft in a search operation for a tanker ship that went missing in Uruguay’s area of maritime responsibility. In its most recent mission, FAB used two C-130 Hercules aircraft and deployed 32 service members to assist the Peruvian government in providing emergency aid to nearly 700,000 people affected by flooding.
That situation, considered one of the most serious in recent Peruvian history, also mobilized support from other nations in addition to Brazil. “There were aircraft from other nations, such as Chile, Argentina, and later, the United States. Even though there was not direct teamwork, it occurred as the sum of the solidarity shown by the individual efforts of each country, which contributed to a reduction in suffering by the population in the regions that were hit,” said Lieutenant Colonel Marcelo da Silva Ribeiro, commander of FAB’s Cascavel Squadron (1st GTT). This military unit alternated with Gordo Squadron (1st/1st GT) in the operation in Peru.
These FAB squadrons fly C-130 Hercules aircraft, considered as best suited for the Peruvian context “due to their features of higher capacity for cargo and passenger transport,” explained Lt. Col. Ribeiro.
Over the 22 days of the mission — from March 21st to April 11th — service members logged 154 flight hours. Nearly 2,000 people were transported in FAB’s planes, most rescued from the cities of Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura, and Tumbes, and taken to the Peruvian capital, Lima, where they received shelter and health care. On their return from the capital to the flooded regions, the aircraft were loaded with provisions, water, and medicine. Together, both Brazilian aircraft delivered around 380 tons of cargo to the population.
Lt. Col. Ribeiro stated that the quick response to humanitarian issues is the result of ongoing FAB training. “We keep our troops and aircraft ready to carry out a range of missions at any moment, for use at any time, and in any place, through a rigorous training program that is done at the beginning of each year.”
The human organ transport service is one of the activities that illustrate the lifesaving potential of the Air Force’s work. June 6th marked one year since this type of operation was stepped up by FAB. Since the publication of Decree No. 8783/2016, at least one aircraft has been available to respond to calls for organ transport at any time of the day or night. A specialized response team also remains on alert “so that the mission can be planned and all of the support that is needed for the operation coordinated in the most varied situations,” explained First Lieutenant Linccon Gregório Fernandes, a pilot in FAB’s 6th Air Transport Squadron (ETA 6, per its Portuguese acronym), located in Brasília.
Since this initiative was put into practice a year ago, FAB has completed the delivery of 258 organs. The team that takes part in these operations is basically composed of the crew of the activated plane, which includes two pilots and a mechanic. On some types of aircraft, a commissioner is also present.
In addition, two military service members or civilians may join the group to function as a doctor and nurse for the collection. “When there is a call, the pilots fly the aircraft to the airport that is closest to the organ collection location. The mechanic assists with periodic checks of the aircraft equipment and the commissioner provides aid to the crew in case of emergency. The doctor and nurse collect the organ [they pick up the material at the hospital or institution that did the surgery to harvest the organ] and bring it onto the aircraft,” 1st Lt. Linccon summarized.
Organ transport is often a race against time, as the organ must be transplanted within hours to increase the likelihood that it will take. Faced with this challenge, FAB anticipates within its organ transport logistics, using fast, long-range aircraft able to take off and land on different types of terrain. “That way, according to the location and the type of organ, a certain type of aircraft is assigned,” 1st Lt. Linccon underscored.
The pilot insisted in recalling one of his experiences leading this kind of mission. “I was getting ready for bed and the telephone rang. It was a night like any other, but the call disturbed my peace. I put on my uniform, picked up my suitcase, and headed to 1st Wing, in Brasília.” There, he learned that the mission would entail taking a doctor and a nurse to Dourados, in Mato Grosso do Sul, where a liver would be harvested for transplantation in Brasília. “Approximately two hours after being called up, we were already landing in Dourados. That mission really left a mark on me, because I was at home on an ordinary night, and the operation left me feeling gratified to know that I was saving a life.”