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September 12, 2001Subscribe to the Times | E-mail this story

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102nd on alert to guard northeastern skies
Helicopters are sent to Long Island while fighters intensify patrols.

By JAMES KINSELLA and KEVIN DENNEHY
STAFF WRITERS
Airmen from Cape Cod responded yesterday to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which operates from the Otis Air National Guard Base on the Upper Cape, is charged with defense of the northeastern United States, including New York and Washington.

The wing has 18 F-15 Eagle jet fighters.

A base spokeswoman said Otis was responding to assignments given by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is headquartered in Colorado and coordinates U.S. air defense.

Otis Air National Guard Base, the Coast Guard's Air Station Cape Cod and the Army Guard's Camp Edwards, which are all on the Massachusetts Military Reservation, were all put on a heightened state of alert.

Effective yesterday morning, the three installations were closed to all but essential personnel. Security guards were posted at all entrances to the reservation.

School buses checked
Security was tightened even at a Bourne public school located on the base.

As busloads of kindergartners rolled toward the Otis Memorial School for the afternoon session, they were greeted by National Guardsmen who searched their buses.

The Otis school, which serves all children of military families and every kindergartener in the Bourne system, stayed open all day and will remain open today, officials said.

The Coast Guard sent two Jayhawk HH-60 helicopters from Air Station Cape Cod to assist in medical evacuations of victims of the terrorist attacks.

The two helicopters, each carrying four crewmembers, flew to Long Island and were standing by to help, according to Lt. Rob Barthelmes at the Cape station.

A Falcon jet also was standing by at Air Station Cape Cod late yesterday afternoon to ferry more crewmembers and medical equipment to the Cape helicopters on Long Island.

Early yesterday evening, it was unclear whether Otis was operating many more F-15 flights than usual. A base spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Margaret Quenneville, declined to comment on how many jets were activated yesterday.

The base keeps two F-15s ready to fly on a moment's notice 24 hours a day.

Fighters scramble
Several residents of the Pickerel Cove neighborhood, which is near flight paths taken by the F-15s, sensed increased fighter activity.

"Today wasn't typical," said a resident who declined to give his name. "Today was jets leaving all day long."

Another neighborhood resident, Bill Thompson, said he noticed increased activity around 10 or 10:30 a.m. yesterday, with the fighters taking off in pairs.

An apparent increased activity in the sky was matched by increased scrutiny on the ground.

William Wibel, principal of the Otis Memorial School on the base, said that school buses were searched for any hint of explosives.

"There was no noticeable impact on the children," Wibel said. "We just played it down as a visitor on the bus."

Several parents who were nervous about their children being on the base, came and pulled them out of school. While tensions are sure to remain on edge for days, Wibel assured parents that the Otis school will be a safe place for children. All doors to the building will remain bolted, and school officials will continue to check the IDs of any schools visitors.

And while the military base wasn't closed, its gates were locked to anyone who wasn't supposed to be there.

The Army monitored the Sandwich gate. The Air Force watched the Bourne entrance. And the Coast Guard covered the Falmouth gate.

Wibel was preparing for a meeting with military commanders when he first heard about the first World Trade Center crash. That meeting was abruptly canceled.

"As I drove away, and was listening to the news on the radio, the 102nd was scrambling into duty," said Wibel, who could hear four more jets launching as he spoke later in the day.

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