Operation Christmas Drop, an annual humanitarian effort from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam that air drops holiday packages to the people of remote Micronesian islands, including Ifaluk, started off with a bust this year.
The Christmas drop tradition began in 1952 when some air force people, flying over a remote island, noticed some islanders below waving to them. They got the idea of getting together some stuff on the plane, putting it in a package, and dropping it to them. That single act of charity became a holiday tradition at the US airbase.
This year, the operation collected over 23 tons of supplies, equipment, clothing, medicine, and toys to distribute to the residents of 68 isolated places, islands that normally have contact with the outside world only through infrequent ship service. The people of Guam donated not only a lot of material items for the distribution, but they also contributed about $35,000. Many also gained support for the project from contacts on the US mainland.
One of the major criticisms of the Christmas drop program in recent years has been the choice of gifts for the islanders. Peter Malmai, from Ifaluk, said the crate last year was filled with toys, but it was hard to eat them. “It’s like we got one of everything, … but what we need most are more hooks and line,” he said. Evidently the organizers of the annual program heard similar complaints from others, for the emphasis this year was on more practical gifts, such as fishing gear. They spent $5,000 of the donated money on fishing supplies, and contacted mainland fishing clubs for contributions.
The first air drop began on Sunday, last week, the 14th, with the media invited to go along. Unfortunately, it did not go too well. A Pacific News Center release shows everyone climbing into the C130 Globemaster cargo plane, the captain talking, then the 250 pound crates of supplies being pushed out the rear cargo bay, only to drop, without the parachutes opening, into the sea next to an island.
Another news story provides more detail. The Air Force was using a new style of container made of rubber since they had run out of the large cardboard boxes they had used, without problems, in the past. The first rubber box out of the plane on Sunday, over one of the island in Chuuk, filled with tools, clothing, and canned foods, exploded. Two more snapped open when they were caught by updrafts after leaving the plane. Fishhooks, machetes, and canned goods plopped into the shallow sea next to the island. Clothing fluttered in the breezes. The resourceful islanders apparently retrieved much of the goods from the floor of the sea.
The air force people tried using strips of duct tape to hold the next box together. It only half exploded. The package ripped open, rolled upside down, the parachute failed to deploy, and the gifts again plunged into the sea. Fortunately, no one was hurt by falling machetes. The captain in charge of the operation this year, in a blog entry about the experience, said that resourceful staff people solved the problems of the inadequate containers (and, presumably, the parachutes that failed to deploy). The air drop continued with complete success from Monday through the rest of the week.
It is not clear how many hooks and fishing lines made it to Ifaluk.