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A look back at the AFMS response in Jonestown, Guyana

  • Published
  • Air Force Medical Service History Office

In an operation that began on November 18, 1978, the Air Force Medical Service responded to a disaster situation unlike any others before it.

When armed members of the People's Temple cult, led by Jim Jones, assassinated a visiting U.S. Congressman, Leo Ryan, and several members of his delegation at an airstrip near Jonestown, Guyana, the State Department turned to the Air Force for assistance, and the Military Airlift Command was mobilized to respond to the disaster. A seven-member aeromedical evacuation crew from the Charleston-based 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and medical commander, augmented by a Navy pathologist, deployed to Guyana.

Once they established a receiving station in the airport's fire station, they triaged the few survivors and airlifted the most critically wounded to the Navy Hospital at Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. After, they conducted an aeromedical evacuation of the remaining patients to Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, for treatment.

Afterwards, Jim Jones directed the mass suicide and murder of his followers before killing himself. The death toll exceeded 900, making the incident one of the largest mass murder-suicides in American history.

Editor's note: Information for this article was adapted from portions of "100 Years of Excellence: The History of the Air Force Medical Service."