Offutt Air Force Base Cancels Airshow after 'Historic Disaster' Floods

  • Contracted employees of the Environmental Restoration, LLC company, along with Offutt Air Force Base firefighters, deploy a spill containment boom March 18, 2019 around the Offutt Air Force Base fuel storage area as a precautionary measure following flooding. (U.S. Air Force/Delanie Stafford)
    Contracted employees of the Environmental Restoration, LLC company, along with Offutt Air Force Base firefighters, deploy a spill containment boom March 18, 2019 around the Offutt Air Force Base fuel storage area as a precautionary measure following flooding. (U.S. Air Force/Delanie Stafford)
  • An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base and the surrounding areas affected by flood waters on March 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/TSgt. Rachelle Blake)
    An aerial view of Offutt Air Force Base and the surrounding areas affected by flood waters on March 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/TSgt. Rachelle Blake)
  • Members of Team Offutt fill sandbags March 15, 2019 at Offutt Air Force Base Nebraska during preparations for anticipated flooding of the base. (U.S. Air Force/TSgt. Rachelle Blake)
    Members of Team Offutt fill sandbags March 15, 2019 at Offutt Air Force Base Nebraska during preparations for anticipated flooding of the base. (U.S. Air Force/TSgt. Rachelle Blake)

Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, will not host an air show this summer after massive floodwaters crippled base operations in recent days, Offutt's wing commander said.

"The scope of this historic disaster has touched nearly every aspect of Nebraska including Offutt Air Force Base," 55th Wing commander Col. Michael Manion said in a statement Tuesday. "Assessing the impact to the base is ongoing and we will recover, but it is obvious it will be some time before we can return to normal operations or have the capacity to host an event like an air show and open house."

Because of the conditions, the 2019 "Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air Show" scheduled for June 1 has been cancelled, Manion said.

The Air Force Thunderbirds were scheduled to headline this year's show, according to a release.

The airshow is supposed to be an annual affair, but the event was canceled in 2013, 2015 and 2017 due to budget cuts, operational demand and construction to one of its tarmacs, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The 2018 open house featured both the F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II demonstration teams.

"We sincerely enjoy opening our gates to the public and appreciate the tremendous support we get from Bellevue, Omaha, and the surrounding communities and are committed to continuing the open house and air show at the next available opportunity," Manion said.

Anyone who purchased a premium ticket for the show will be refunded, Offutt said.

As in many parts of the Midwest, floodwaters started encroaching on Offutt Friday after water levels rose and broke levees from the Missouri River and Papillion Creek, known as the "Papio" Creek.

Base spokesman Ryan Hansen on Wednesday said that all base personnel began returning to their jobs Tuesday. Some active-duty members and civilians are working out of buildings that haven't been affected by the flood or temporary locations, Hansen told Military.com.

Officials still haven't made it to the most heavily affected areas for safety reasons. The aircraft runway remains closed.

"Were still kind of in recovery mode as to getting to any facilities down there," Hansen said, adding experts in environmental and civil engineering, as well as the fire department, have to clear the facilities before top brass can start making inspections and damage assessment.

The record floods are due to "a record-setting snowfall this winter, in addition to a huge drop in air pressure earlier in the week," base officials said in an earlier news release.

Offutt, home of the 55th Wing, evacuated and relocated nine aircraft as a result of flooding, including eight RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft and one of Global Strike Command's E4-B Nightwatch aircraft, more commonly known as the "Doomsday" plane.

No aircraft have returned, Hansen said Wednesday. There are 46 aircraft total assigned to the wing, which includes those that are deployed or geographically separated from Offutt. Hansen said there are roughly 10 to 15 aircraft stationed at Offutt during normal operations.

The base is also preparing to shut down all runway operations in December for pre-planned maintenance.

The base's runway, which was last restored in 2006, will be rebuilt and remain non-operational for one year as flight missions relocate to Nebraska's Lincoln Air National Guard Base, Hansen said.

That maintenance is still on schedule, he said.

Hansen said base officials hope to get to "a building or two" on Thursday, following a safety inspection.

Roughly 60 structures have been submerged or affected by the flood. Some of the flooded buildings have recorded water levels between six and eight feet.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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