U.S. Vice President Makes Brief Refueling Stop In American Samoa

Biden meets with Governor, First Lady and delegation on way to Australia

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 16, 2016) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga led the local delegation that greeted US Vice President Joe Biden, who made a refueling stop over in American Samoa late yesterday afternoon (Friday), which is the same day that American Samoa was celebrating Manu’a Cession Day.  Lolo had just arrived back on Tutuila following the ceremony on the Manu’a island group.

Accompanying the governor at the Pago Pago International Airport to greet Biden on his first visit to the America’s most southern jurisdiction, were First Lady Cynthia Moliga and Secretary of Samoa Affairs Mauga Tasi Asuega.

Biden was enroute from Honolulu, where he attended several events Thursday, to the Australian cities of Melbourne and Sydney and then to New Zealand. According to the White House, the vice president’s visit to Australia is to demonstrate close strategic, economic and cultural ties between the two countries.

In Sydney, Biden is supposed to meet with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other government officials, as well as having a discussion with Australian and American business leaders. Biden is also expected to speak on major policy on the future of the US-Australia relationship.

Samoa News understands that among those traveling with Biden  — on his aircraft “United States of America” are his grandchildren. Furthermore, Biden was not expected to deplane while in Pago Pago but was to remain on the aircraft. However, about 30-minutes before the plane landed local authorities were informed that the vice president was deplaning during the refueling period.Biden is the second US Vice President to make a stop over in Pago Pago. The first was several years ago by then Vice President Dan Qualye, whose comments that local residents are “happy campers” caused objections from local leaders and strong protest from then Congressman Faleomavaega Eni.

“This is awesome,” an American Samoa man visiting from Seattle told Samoa News when asked at the Tafuna airport what he thought about Biden’s visit and taking a cell phone photo with the vice president, who was welcomed with a large white signed put together by unknown young ladies, “Welcome Mr. Vice President.”

“Awesome” and “great” were echoed by others who had a chance to shake Biden’s hand as well as taking photos with him — all using cell phones.  “This is really, really great — I get to talk to the Vice President and then take a photo with him,” said another local male resident, who asked not be identified but plans on posting on his Facebook page his photo with Biden.

Tini Ierome brought her 9-year old son Jacobson to the airport so both of them can witness what Mrs. Ierome says is “history” for American Samoa, being visited by a sitting vice president.

“I’m just so very happy to be here and this is great for my son,” Mrs. Ierome said after talking to Biden and then taking a photo with the vice president — again using a cell phone. One friend of Mrs. Ierome’s was envious because the friend arrived late.

About 10 uniformed police officers with the Department of Public Safety, as well as the K-9 police unit were at the airport in advance of Biden’s 3:05p.m arrival. They were joined by 15 Airport Police Security Officers who were on duty, several of them on the tarmac before and when Biden’s plane was on the ground for nearly 90-minutes. Usually the airport has about 5 security officers on duty.

At least five agents with the US Secret Service — whose responsibilities include protecting the US President and US Vice President — were at the airport way before the plane landed. Samoa News understands that two of the agents arrived Monday to conduct a security check of the airport. And the agents were seen all over the area that was to be covered at the airport during Biden’s arrival.

Just before Biden’s plane landed, the DPS uniformed officers lined the entrance to the Governor’s VIP Lounge from the tarmac, while four Criminal Investigation Division personnel were seen on the grassy area of the airport watching the crowd of more than 100 inside the main lobby of the airport. The DPS K-9 unit also did a sweep of the main lobby already crowded with people and their cell phones, the VIP Lounge — where the governor and other officials were waiting — and even the police officers standing guard at the entrance to the VIP Lounge.

Throughout the entire event Friday afternoon, with the police presence as well as federal agents, passengers heading to Samoa on Polynesian Airlines as well as those waiting for Biden’s arrival were well entertained with Samoan music from the Ulale and Chico band.

When Biden emerged from inside his plane on top of the stairs, as Samoan live-music played on, local residents clapped and cheered as the vice president made his way down the stairs to meet the governor and other waiting local officials and then headed into the VIP Lounge.

It’s unclear what the governor and Biden discussed inside the VIP Lounge as the private sector media — Samoa News and KHJ News — were not allow inside or even near the tarmac or any of the airport restricted areas.

A government-owned KVZK-TV cameraman and reporter were allowed to film inside the airport’s restricted area, and very close to Biden, but it’s unclear if they were inside the VIP Lounge.

After being in the VIP lounge for about 40-minutes after the plane landed, Biden came out onto the grassy area of the airport and started talking, shaking hands and saying hello to many local residents.

Just a little after 4p.m. another “United States of America” aircraft landed and it’s believed that this aircraft was carrying others heading to Australia and New Zealand. Airport officials told Samoa News that Biden’s plane was only estimated to be on the ground for at least an hour for refueling before the second plane landed but the “vice president wanted to meet and say hello to our residents during his visit.”

Biden made the rounds to farewell local officials and headed up the stairs to his plane. On top of the stairs before entering the aircraft, Biden waved as many local residents inside the airport terminal waved back with some local residents yelling out, “Thank You Mr. Vice President, Tofa Soifua.” At this time, the Ulale and Chico band were playing a Samoan farewell song.

Samoa News found out that some local residents arrived too late to see Biden. For example a young mother and her two children just arrived at the airport after Biden had already boarded his plane.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2016. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

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