(From left) Maj. Gary Hornosky, commander of the Mississippi Wing’s Diamondhead Composite Squadron, prepares to fly with 1st Lt. Darrin Stewart of the Col. Berta A. Edge Composite Squadron, an employee of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, and Kayra Johnson, an environmental engineer from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Photo by Maj. Keith Riddle
A Mississippi Wing aerial photo of the barrier islands shows no oil in sight.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
Col. Becky Tilton
Public Affairs Officer
MISSISSIPPI -–The Mississippi Wing has suspended its flights in support of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
The two state agencies requested the CAP flights -– suspended Aug. 27-– nearly four months ago in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Aircrews began flying May 3, a couple of weeks after the explosion, and helped officials with both agencies assess and monitor environmental impact issues related to the ensuing oil spill and helped them manage the after-effects of the crisis.
“The Civil Air Patrol has been playing a key role in the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident by partnering with the state and providing us with the means to conduct oil surveillance flights of Mississippi’s territorial waters,” said Chad Seymour, an environmental scientist with MDMR.
The Mississippi Wing has a longstanding relationship with the MDMR and a history of support for coastal flying, which prompted the requests for assistance.
Within days of the explosion, CAP aircrews were carrying representatives from the two agencies over the Mississippi coastal areas. Still imagery, digital video and other reconnaissance activities from the flights provided a valuable resource for planning, reaction, logistical placement of oil containment booms and information to the government officials and general public.
First Lt. Darrin Stewart, the Col. Berta A. Edge Composite Squadron’s safety and transportation officer as well as an MDMR employee, took photos for the agency and provided reconnaissance of the oil. Stewart’s ability to distinguish between oil types and the natural algae and vegetation in the waters proved critical to interpretation of the photos.
“CAP was not just a resource; it was an integral part of our actions,” said Joe Jewell, assistant director of MDMR’s Office of Marine Fisheries. “By using the eyes in the sky, we were better able to respond to reported sightings, direct our boats and crews to the affected areas, and provide information to the cities and counties.”
The reconnaissance assisted MDMR and MDEQ in assessing the oil’s potential effects on the Mississippi coastline, barrier islands, wetlands, fishing industry, businesses and tourists. Later, the agencies used the flights to monitor the movement of the oil and to mitigate damages.
“As we began to move toward opening up our waters and coastline for commercial and recreational fishing, we were required to respond to any reported oil,” Jewell said. “We could call the CAP, launch a mission and within hours have feedback supported by photographs and hard data, thus allowing us to open the areas or provide the appropriate response.”
In all, Mississippi Wing aircrews made more than 70 flights in support of the two state agencies, accumulating more than 170 flight hours and countless additional man-hours of ground and communication support.
The flights allowed the state agencies to focus their resources where they were needed most. “The pilots were thorough and took us anywhere we needed to go,” Seymour said. “It was truly an honor to have flown with such a great group of people and to know that we can count on the CAP to be there in times of need.”
Trudy Fisher, MDEQ executive director, said that her agency “appreciates the active participation of the Civil Air Patrol in our efforts to protect Mississippi’s coastal natural resources from the intrusion of the oil in the Gulf.
“My father was a fixed-wing pilot for over 52 years, and I was lucky to grow up flying in a Cessna 182,” Fisher added. “Having firsthand experience and knowledge of the benefits of fixed-wing aircraft made it clear to me early in the oil spill the valuable role the CAP would be able to play.”
The CAP flights with MDEQ and MDMR staff were vitally important, she said, making the agencies immediately aware of possible problem areas.
“The professional, working relationships with the CAP helped us fulfill our obligations. Their members possessed the equipment and expertise to do the job, and their willingness to help benefited all of us immensely,” Fisher said.
Col. Tim Carroll, Mississippi Wing commander, praised the CAP members for their dedicated daily support of Deepwater Horizon missions, including those in support of the U.S. Coast Guard, which continue.
“As I see it, CAP brings availability of aircraft and trained aircrews (and) low cost-per-flight-hours, which ensure that more flights can be conducted for a given budget, and a volunteer commitment that is unequaled,” Carroll said.
Maj. Hank Rogers, the wing’s director of emergency services and commander of the Berta Edge squadron, was one of the first CAP pilots to fly as part of the oil spill response. “We are proud to know that we are helping in this crisis,” said Rogers, whose comments echoed those of the many volunteers who answered the call for help.
Members from throughout the state are providing ongoing support to the Coast Guard and will be a resource on the Gulf as long as they are needed, Carroll said.