OP SEA WAVE; OP RAINBOW; OP CASTOR
On 26 December, the last Sunday of the year 2004, a small news ticker on one of the news channel read "Mild earthquake rocks Chennai. No damage reported". This turned out to be the understatement of the century, as the unfolding events later demonstrated.
An undersea earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC (07:58:53 local time) on December 26, 2004. The earthquake originated in the Indian Ocean just north of Simeulue island, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake generated a tsunami that was among the deadliest disasters in modern history, which devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South India and up to Tanzania, with waves as high as 18 m (55.8 feet). The majority of deaths recorded were in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Maldives.
The magnitude of the earthquake increased from the initial report of 6.8 to 8.5, 8.9, and 9.0. New studies estimate the strength at 9.3; It was the largest earthquake since the 9.2 magnitude Good Friday Earthquake off Alaska in 1964.
The epicentre of the main earthquake was some 160 km (100 miles) west of Sumatra, at a depth of 30 km (18.6 miles) below mean sea level (initially reported as 10 km). This is at the extreme western end of the Ring of Fire, an earthquake belt that accounts for 81 percent of the world's largest earthquakes. The earthquake itself (apart from the resulting tsunami) was felt as far away as Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives.
An estimated 1200 km (750 miles) of faultline slipped about 15 m (50 ft) along the subduction zone where the India Plate dives under the Burma Plate. The rupture proceeded north-westerly at a speed of about 2 km/s (1.2 miles/s), beginning off the coast of Aceh before it turned northwards towards the Andaman and Nicobar Islands The India Plate meets the Burma Plate at the Sunda Trench, where it subducts the Burma Plate, which carries the Nicobar Islands, the Andaman Islands and northern Sumatra. Beside the sideways movement between the plates, the sea bed is estimated to have risen by several metres, triggering the tsunami waves. The waves did not originate from a point source, as mistakenly depicted in some illustrations, but radiated outwards along the entire 1200 km (750 miles) length of the rupture. This greatly increased the geographical area over which the waves were observed, reaching as far as Mexico and Chile.
In the aftermath of the resultant death and wide scale destruction, in addition to providing succor to its own, India was quick to extend help to Sri Lanka, The Maldives and Indonesia. Mobilising with impressive speed the first relief package to Sri Lanka was underway within 12 hours of the disaster. The operations were fully underway in the neighbourhood by day 3.
The tsunami affected 2260 Kms of the Indian coastline besides the entire Nicobar Islands. The tidal waves on the mainland were between 3 to 10 meters high and penetrated between 300 m to 3 kilometers.
One of the peacetime roles of the Indian Air Force is to assist the civil administration in dealing with natural calamities. Over the years the IAF has had fair experience in tackling such situations, what with the air effort put in during the Latur earthquake in central and the Gujarat earthquake in western India a few years back.
After the mild tremors felt along the east coast of India, the first inkling that all was not well was the message received at the Air Force base at Chennai. The Do-228 based at Carnic, switched on its HF at 0730h and transmitted a May Day message to the Oceanic Control Centre, Chennai. The message read as follows:-
"MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Chennai, Chennai Chennai this is Victor Juliet Golf on ground at Car Nicobar. Car Nicobar hit by a severe earthquake and flooding of the island by tidal waves. Island is sinking, request immediate rescue and relief".
The Armed Forces launched operation "SEA WAVE" for relief, rescue and evacuation. This was coordinated by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). On receipt of the first information about the disaster, at 0815 h on 26 Dec 04, Air Headquarter swung into action and set its machinery in motion. A Disaster Relief Cell was set up at the Air Headquarter Operations Room, on a round the clock basis.
Two AN-32 aircraft were immediately put on alert in Headquarter Southern Air Command. Other Commands Headquarters were also instructed to keep their aircraft in readiness for the expected Rescue Relief and Casualty Evacuation Operations. The first AN-32 aircraft was launched at 1000h and the second at 1036h for Carnic with refueling halts at Tambaram and Port Blair. Both aircraft landed in Carnic by 1636h. Meanwhile, a Do-228 was also launched from Port Blair, with AFCC on board, for a first hand assessment of the situation.
Command & Control
The overall responsibility for coordinating relief work was given to Headquarter Integrated Defense Staff with representatives from Ministry of Defence, Service Headquarters, Coast Guard, MEA, MHA, MOCA and Ministry of Shipping etc. Meetings were held twice daily to rationalise various relief requirements, to allocate resources for undertaking relief work and to determine future requirements.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
An Integrated Relief Command was also set up under the LG Andaman & Nicobar Islands with CINCAN as the Vice Chairman.
Airlift Resources. As the magnitude of the disaster became clear, resources in addition to the already tasked AN 32 , the AVRO and Do 228 fleets had to be garnered. With the normal air logistic operations underway, only two IL-76 aircraft were available for relief work. Two IL-78 aircraft were also de-modified and pressed into the relief operations. Four Do-228, Four AVROs, Seven IL-76s, 15 AN 32s and 16 Helicopters were pressed into action for this Operation.
Air Effort for Coastal States. As an extensive and effective land transport communication system exists on the mainland, the Air Force involvement for the relief was rather limited. Since the damage was restricted to immediate coastal areas with rest of the support infrastructure intact the air effort requirement was relatively less and surface transport was used for relief operations. However, air effort was used towards carrying out recce of affected areas, Cas- Evac, rescue operations and a few sorties for landing bulk supplies. A total of 67 sorties and 96 hours, were flown towards this task.
Speed was of essence in order to save precious lives and to mitigate further effects of the disaster. A massive airlift operation was therefore put in place from the mainland. The aircraft involved were heavy lift IL-78/IL-76, medium lift An-32, AVROs and Do-228. The Heptrs used were MI-17, MI-8 and Chetak/Cheetah.
The Air Bridge.
An Air Bridge was soon established for the A&N islands, Sri Lanka and the Maldives; the main hub-centres were Delhi, Chennai, Tambaram and Car Nicobar/Port Blair. While airlift operations were undertaken from all over the country major supplies were lifted from Delhi/ Bombay/ Calcutta/ Bhubaneswar/ Ahmedabad and flown directly to Car Nicobar by the IL-76/78 aircraft. At the Indian Air Force base at Car Nicobar, owing to water ingress and sustained IL-76 Operations, the runway was declared unfit for IL-76 Operations on 04 Jan 05. Thereafter, IL-76 aircraft normally landed only at Port Blair, except when operationally essential/unavoidable.
Operation 'SEA WAVE' : Airlift Operations for Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The first two An-32 aircraft landed at Tambaram and from there proceeded to Port Blair/Carnic after readjusting the load to 3.2 T. Refuelling was not available at Carnic due to suspected contamination. However, fuel was subsequently declared fit at Carnic. Average round trip from Hyderabad -Tambaram-Carnic-Port Blair-Tambaram-Hyderabad was 11 hours.
From Port Blair and Carnic, the southern islands such as Campbell Bay, Nan Cowry and Katchall etc were supplied by Heptrs/AN-32/Do-228 aircraft. The Landing strip at Campbell Bay remained available for operations.
Additional Helicopters. In order to meet the additional requirement of airlift resources for Southern Island Operations, five additional heptr were flown in from the mainland to Carnic following the land route of via. Chittagong-Yangon-Diglipur-Port Blair-Carnic. The ac were in place and operational by 02 Jan 05.
Operation 'RAINBOW': Airlift Operations for Sri Lanka
At the request of the Sri Lankan Govt six medium lift helicopters were sent to Sri Lanka to undertake relief Operations. Three helicopters positioned on 27 Dec 04 and three on 28 Dec 04. The helicopters undertook Casevac, distribution of relief supplies, deployment of medical teams and air dropping of food while operating from Katunayke and Minneriya bases.
Total air effort involved including ferrying of aircraft, was 445 missions, 316:10 hours and tonnage and pax lifted were 328.845 tonnes and 882 respectively. The helicopters returned on 22 Jan 05.
Operation 'CASTOR' : Airlift Operations for Maldives
Two Paradrop modified, long range AVROs were tasked to proceed to Maldives on 28 Dec 04 at the request of Maldives Government for assistance. These aircraft undertook inter-island operations within Maldives carrying out landings on various short field runways. Their task was to undertake Caevac, air landing of food, water and other supplies and deployment of medical teams.
Total air effort involved 155 sorties, 198.00 hours and tonnage and passengers lifted were 169.425 tons and 885 respectively. The ac returned to India on 31 Jan 05.
Salient Features of Air Operations.
(a) Flying Time. Average flying time for an IL-76 round trip was about 10 hours. For the An-32 it was even longer.
(b) Loading /off loading time. The "On Ground Time" on an average was 6 hours for loading and 3.4 hrs for off-loading.
(c) Refuelling Constraints.
No fuel was initially available at Carnic due suspected contamination. An-32s had to refuel at Port Blair and other aircraft at Chennai.
(d) Status of Navigation Aids/Runway Lighting. There is an urgent need to upgrade the status of Navigational Aids/Runway Lighting.
(e) Type of Relief Equipment. The relief equipment ranged from basic feed, water, shelter, medical hospitals to generators, boring equipment, common equipment and building material etc.