At about 3:00 a.m. on December 12, a severe earthquake registering 7.7 on the Richter scale struck the southwestern coast of Colombia, leaving 200 people dead, 500 injured, and thousands homeless. More than 80 died in Tumaco and El Charco as 10-foot waves devastated other coastal communities and the region suffered 10 aftershocks within an hour after the initial tremor.
Following an official request from the Colombian government for U.S. assistance, the U.S. South Command in Panama organized an airlift of supplies by cargo planes under operational control of the USAF South Air Division, coordinated by the 1300th Military Airlift Squadron.
On December 14, three C–130s from the 433d Tactical Airlift Wing, on rotational duty with the USAF South Air Division, airlifted 300 large tents and 1,200 doubledecker cots from disaster relief stockpiles at Howard AFB to the disaster area. One C–130 remained in Colombia for three more days, shuttling relief supplies and support personnel among the communities of Bogotá, Cali, Tumaco, and Tolemedia. On December 16, a fourth C–130 transported more relief supplies from Howard AFB to Tumaco. By December 17, the four C–130s had carried 87 tons of supplies and 118 passengers in 21 sorties.