On May 21 and 22, tremendous earthquakes in Chile produced seismic sea waves that raced westward across the Pacific Ocean at a speed of more than 400 mph. Sixteen hours later, four waves, magnified by the sloping sea floor, pounded the eastern coast of the island of Hawaii, 6,800 miles away from the epicenter of the Chilean earthquake. Although the Hawaiians had ample warning, more than 50 people died at Hilo and hundreds were left homeless. Hawaii, which had become a state the previous year, declared a state of emergency and requested federal assistance.
Before the end of the month, the 1502d Air Transport Wing, from Hickam AFB on the island of Oahu, airlifted more than 12 tons of emergency equipment and supplies to Hilo. The wing’s 50th Air Transport Squadron flew C–124 Globemaster II airplanes for the relief operation, delivering an electric generator, refrigerator, vans, clothing, and food to the disaster victims.