Air forces from the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym), came to Mexico’s aid after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale shook the country on September 19th, leaving hundreds of victims dead and thousands injured and affected. This new telluric movement occurred exactly 32 years after the earthquake that left thousands dead on September 19, 1985.
“SICOFAA member nations quickly agreed to cancel the Cooperación V air exercise that was to be held in Chile from September 26th to October 7th,” Colonel Rodrigo Zapata, the director of the Colombian Air Force’s National Rescue and Special Operations Center, told Diálogo. “The countries that had expressed their commitment to participating in the exercise deployed their aid to Mexico.”
The Colombian, Ecuadorean, Salvadoran, and U.S. air forces were the first to provide the specialized humanitarian technical assistance offered to the Mexican government and people to bolster their search and rescue work following the earthquake. Almost immediately, the Mexican Armed Forces deployed more than 11,000 soldiers to provide assistance.
“This foreign assistance has meant a lot to Mexicans. Rest assured that we will be forever grateful,” Mexican Navy Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberón, Mexican Secretary of the Navy, stated on social media. Mexican Secretary of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said that “domestic and international cooperation has been essential for saving lives.”
SICOFAA, through its many events and previous exercises, has helped to create a sense of unity, camaraderie, and mutual support among the air forces of the Americas, and you see that on display in the relief effort as many SICOFAA member countries have sent aid to Mexico,” U.S. Air Force Colonel Anthony G. Cook, the secretary general of SICOFAA, told Diálogo. SICOFAA is a voluntary, non-political organization devoted to promoting cooperation, unity, and interoperability among the 20 air forces of partner nations in the Americas.
Outpouring of solidarity
The earthquake caused damage in the states of Guerrero, Mexico, Morelos, and Puebla, as well as in the nation’s capital. Several parts of Mexico City were declared disaster zones less than two weeks after another huge earthquake had caused damage in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
“The first 72 hours are crucial in these kinds of tragedies. The levels of coordination and communication must facilitate a rapid and timely response to complete the mission,” Col. Zapata said. “Helping our allies when they are in need is one of the most important things we do as a nation,” added U.S. Air Force Captain Kyle Brackett of the 21st Airlift Squadron.
“Two days after the earthquake, humanitarian aid from the United States arrived at Military Air Base No. 2 on board a C-17 [from the U.S. Air Force] in a great gesture of solidarity,” Adm. Soberón reported. “The airlift unit transported 33 tons of equipment and an elite Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”
The Colombian government also deployed aid. It sent a Colombian Air Force Boeing 727 Vulcan, a rescue team, a 10-ton load of humanitarian aid, and two canine teams to assist the Mexican authorities with their search-and-rescue duties.
The day after the earthquake, the Salvadoran Air Force transported 25 elite rescuers from El Salvador’s Urban Search and Rescue Group in a C-47 turboprop plane. The delegation traveled with enough food, supplies, and provisions to be self-sufficient during their stay in Mexico.
Ecuador sent an L-100-30 Hercules transport plane from the Ecuadorean Air Force. Its aid mission comprised 30 people with medical and communications equipment that helped in the planning, search with canines, and the breaking down, perforation, lifting, and removal of debris.
The Costa Rican team arrived on a Beechcraft King Air F90 belonging to the Costa Rican National Police by pilots from the Aerial Surveillance Service of the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Safety. This group comprised experts on assessing the structural damage to buildings.
Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru also sent their best rescuers to work with the Mexican authorities in their search-and-rescue efforts for people trapped under the rubble. Other nations from around the world, including Israel, Japan, and Spain, joined the international aid effort, sending contingents with tons of unconditional aid to the Aztec nation.
The personnel in these foreign delegations were coordinated by Mexico’s Secretariat of the Navy, National Defense Secretariat, Federal Police, and Civil Defense authorities. Rescue missions were conducted 24 hours a day and they also assisted in assessing the damage caused by the quake.
Coordination, synergy, and training
“Even though the aid was dispatched to Mexico through various diplomatic communication channels, we always keep in communication and coordination with SICOFAA when this kind of international aid is provided,” Col. Zapata noted. “No nation is exempt from these unwanted disasters.”
“It is important to note the synergy among our partner forces when responding jointly to a large-scale emergency and joining forces to benefit the nation affected, which, in this case, was Mexico,” Armando Rodríguez Luna, an expert on military and security issues with the Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy (CASEDE, per its Spanish acronym) in Mexico City, told Diálogo. “Because earthquakes are a constant in Mexico and in other countries in the Latin American region, this type of phenomenon must be given priority in the agendas of the Mexican Armed Forces and other armed forces in the region in order to jointly bolster our capabilities and develop new ones.”
“This entire experience, plus the opportunity to participate in combined training exercises at the national and international levels, such as [SICOFAA’s] multilateral ‘Cooperación’ exercise, enriches our experience and expertise in the planning, control, and execution of operations in cases of natural disasters,” Col. Zapata concluded. “We will always be ready and willing to assist our partner nations.”