Since when did fishing equipment fall from the sky? The answer – Christmas 1952.
An aircrew from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based in Guam were making a routine flight over remote islands in the Pacific Ocean. As they passed overhead, the crew noticed villagers waving at them from the tiny Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangi.
A series cyclones had decimated the island, and the inhabitants’ plight was desperate. The quick thinking crew gathered as many useful items as they could lay their hands on, fashioned a makeshift parachute and dropped it to the people below.
That first act of generosity sparked a tradition that has been kept ever since. Operation Christmas Drop celebrated its 61st anniversary over the recent festive period, when 39,000 tonnes of aid including vital fishing equipment were parachuted to a total of around 30,000 islanders.
Living in such an isolated part of the world means that fishing is more than a hobby for islanders. Without the protein in their diet that comes from the daily catch, their health – even their lives would be threatened.
That’s why the yearly bonanza from the skies is so important. Carefully stowed in crates were plenty of fishing equipment, tools, toys, sports gear, clothing and food. The gifts were successfully delivered from Hercules aircraft to Chuuk, Palau, Yap, the Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; 54 tiny islands – dots on the chart, amid the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
Despite their untouched tropical beauty, many Pacific islands have none of the basic amenities that we take for granted; like running water and electricity. Their remote location means life can be incredibly tough for islanders, and items that we’d consider commonplace, are great luxuries to those who live thousands of miles from the nearest mainland.
For the service men and women of U.S Pacific Command, the annual airdrop is a centrepiece of the mission’s outreach programme. These days, aircrews are drawn from US airbases in both Guam and Japan – but it’s not just service personnel who contribute to the operation.
Local charities and students from the University of Guam are unceasingly generous with their time, helping each year with preparations for the drop. Generosity which led US Air Force Col. David Gould, to say he felt humbled to be part of the outpouring.
Now isn’t that a ‘ray’ of sunshine to banish those winter blues.