Above: The crew from the 747 SuperTanker is welcomed at the Santiago Airport, January 25, 2017.
Early Wednesday morning the 747 SuperTanker landed at Santiago, Chile to begin an assignment to help firefighters on the ground suppress some of the many fires burning in the country during an extended drought and heat wave.
After landing, the huge aircraft was towed by an airport tug to a remote corner of the military side of the airport where two very large bladder bags had been positioned, presumably containing water to fill the 19,200-gallon tank. It took quite a while for the tug to position the 747 in that location, so the aircraft crew will be working with the locals to reposition what will be a loading pit so that the aircraft can quickly taxi in and out to reload, without the use of a tug.
The first order of business was to bring three drug-sniffing dogs on board. One of them had to be carried up the very steep ladder to the upper deck — not an easy task. Kudos to the dog’s handler who made it look fairly easy, even though the dog looked quite uncomfortable.
After we were bussed to a VIP version of Customs, the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Carol Perez met with Jim Wheeler, CEO and President of Global Supertanker. Next was a chaotic press conference where Alfredo Mascareno of CONAF, which is the Chilean version of the U.S. Forest Service, was mobbed by several dozen members of the media, including CNN of Chile. Mr. Wheeler told me he was grateful that he was not interviewed.
The two flight crews will get some rest Wednesday morning, and one of them will most likely be available in the afternoon to fly the aircraft. But many logistical and coordination details still need to be worked out.
Christopher M. Nyce of the U.S. Embassy told us that USA fire personnel have been deployed to Chile for this fire siege, including four from the USFS and a “team” from CAL FIRE. The USFS contingent arrived early Wednesday morning. CAL FIRE signed an agreement with Chile in November regarding mutual assistance during wildfires. There may be firefighters from other countries arriving later this week. (UPDATE January 31, 2017: there was a change in plans, and the personnel from CAL FIRE did not deploy to Chile.)