Waiting for the burn victims at Bucharest International Airport on 8 November. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen
By Sunday 8 November, the death toll of the tragedy had risen to 45 and more than 30 people remained in critical or serious condition in hospital care. In order to ease the pressure on the Romanian health care system, an ambulance flight was prepared with a short notice. Only a couple of hours after the Romanian mission request had received final approval on Sunday, a SAC C-17 was dispatched to Bucharest from its home base in Pápa, Hungary. At Bucharest International Airport, the versatile C-17 aircraft was furnished with the medical equipment necessary for the transportation of the severely injured burn victims.
During the flight, the patients were treated by a team of 17 Romanian health care professionals, consisting of nine emergency physicians and eight nurses from the Romanian Mobile Emergency Service for Resuscitation and Extrication (SMURD). According to the leader of the team, Dr Solomon Bogdan, the mission was the first with a C-17 for the Romanian health care system. He emphasized that never before had so many patients with such serious medical conditions been transported on a single ambulance flight.
Patients being brought on board the aircraft at Bucharest International Airport on 8 November. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen
Late Sunday evening, after the patients had been carefully brought on board the C-17, the course was set for RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. According to Mr John Dyer, Head of Resilience and Specialist Operations at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust, the ambulance flight was directed to the air base because of its central location. From RAF Brize Norton, nine patients were transported to seven different hospitals all around England and Wales. Mr Dyer described the effort as an excellent example of an international humanitarian mission.
As soon as all the nine patients had been safely handed over to UK ambulance crews, the SAC C-17 continued its mission to Bergen, Norway. Early Monday morning, upon arrival at Bergen International Airport, the last patient was transferred to a Norwegian ambulance and taken to hospital. Subsequently, the Romanian medical team and the multinational SAC aircrew were able to get a well-deserved rest. The six-member aircrew included service personnel from SAC member nations Norway, Sweden and the United States. The C-17 returned to its home base in Pápa via Bucharest on Tuesday 10 November, after the mandatory 24-hour crew rest in Bergen.
The Romanian medical team and SAC aircrew at Bucharest International Airport on 10 November after a successful mission. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen
About the Strategic Airlift Capability
The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), established in 2008, is an independent and multinational program that provides access to military airlift capability to its 12 partner nations by owning and operating three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets.
SAC is based at the Hungarian Defence Forces (HDF) Pápa Air Base, Hungary.
The SAC Nations are the NATO members Hungary (program host nation), Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States and NATO Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden. Each participating nation owns a share of the available flight hours of the SAC C-17s to serve the needs of their national defense, NATO, EU or UN commitments and humanitarian relief efforts.
SAC organizations consist of the operational arm, the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) and the NATO Airlift Management (NAM) Programme Office that is the acquisition and sustainment authority of the SAC C-17 weapon system. It also provides site and administrational support to the HAW.
The Boeing Company is contracted by SAC to provide technical support for the C-17 aircraft.
Text: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen