Wake Island Evacuees Arrive in Honolulu

Maj. James Hill
Maj. James Hill
Eugene Perry
Eugene Perry
Evacuees board C-17s bound for Honolulu
Evacuees board C-17s bound for Honolulu

by Minna Sugimoto

HICKAM AFB (KHNL) - As a precaution, the U.S. military moved in and evacuated 188 people from Wake Island Monday. We take you on the evacuation mission, which Air Force officials say is their first at Wake Island.

Nearly 200 people on a tiny island in the path of a powerful storm.

"We went ahead and, you know, prepared all the facilities best we could putting sandbags around them, covering all the windows, the doors," Capt. Nate Harris, U.S. Air Force, said.

With all that done, it's time to leave. Two C-17 aircraft from Hickam Air Force Base arrive at Wake Island for the evacuation mission.

"The weather there was actually very beautiful," Maj. James Hill, U.S. Air Force, said. "They were waiting for us as soon as we got there. We simply left the engines running on the first airplane, opened up the back doors and we on loaded everybody."

Most of the people on Wake Island are American and Thai contractors for the Department of Defense. The base there provides facilities, equipment, fuel and other needs to sustain aircraft for combat missions. This time, the workers are the ones who need a hand.

"Most of the things we've been doing for the past five years are related to the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," Hill said. "So whenever you get involved and you deal with saving people's lives and helping people out of a bad situation, it gives you a really good feeling of success."

The C-17s make their final approach at Hickam. Once they touch down, it's smiles and handshakes all around.

Among the evacuees is civilian worker Eugene Perry.

"They kept saying that it's going to hit straight for us," he said. "So I guess that's when they made the decision to evacuate."

He says the large planes from Hickam were a sight for sore eyes.

"It was joyful," he said. "I mean, it ain't everyday you get to take off and go to Honolulu for a few days."

The evacuated workers are staying in hotel rooms on Oahu. As for when they'll return to Wake Island, that'll depend on what's left after the storm.