PACIFIC OCEAN (March 14, 2011) Streams of debris float in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the nation on March 11. The “Skinny Dragons” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 have been conducting aerial missions in support of Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Steve White)

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 16, 2011) - Flight crews from Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 are flying humanitarian and support missions as part of Operation Tomodachi in response to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that hit northern Japan March 11.

The squadron, nicknamed the "Skinny Dragons," flying the P-3C Orion aircraft out of Okinawa, have been performing aerial search missions over the debris field off the coast of northern Japan. Japanese homes and semi-truck trailers are among the odd assortment of wreckage floating as far as 10 miles out in the Pacific.

"VP-4 has only just begun to aid in the humanitarian effort," said Lt. Matthew Welch, a pilot with VP-4. "So far we have built a pretty effective map of the debris field as well as cleared areas in the water, which enables other rescuers the ability to focus on new areas."

The squadron performed their fourth mission in the area March 14, since the quake.

"Each mission gives us the opportunity to find someone stranded at sea," said Welch. "Every single flight we are providing eyes on an area that potentially has people who desperately need our help. I think that means a lot to our crew and hopefully the Japanese people."

During the mission the flight crew searched for survivors via sight and surface-search radar. Additionally the crew sends relevant information to their headquarters regarding the location of potentially hazardous areas that could affect surface ships assisting in the relief effort.

"While we are a SAR (search and rescue) capable platform...We are also a small part of a much bigger scheme to help the victims of this disaster," said Welch.

VP-4 is based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.