New York City's 80-member urban-search-and-rescue team finally took off from Stewart Air National Guard Base in upstate Newburgh for Haiti on Saturday morning to begin operations in the devastated country, officials said.

The first group of New York Task Force One, whose co-commander is FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Downey of West Islip, took off at 6:20 a.m. Saturday. A second planeload of team members took off from the upstate air base about an hour later, a spokesman for the city Office of Emergency Management said.

The units are part of the 220-member group of firefighters and police officers known as New York Task Force One. After a send-off from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and city emergency management chief Joseph Bruno, the team drove some 70 miles to Stewart Air National Guard Base, arriving at 4 p.m.

The teams were expected to arrive in Haiti before noon and set up operations in Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, which was particularly hard hit by the magnitude 7.0 quake, said the spokesman. They will cut through the concrete and steel of collapsed structures to seek survivors and aid in recovery of other victims.

Downey, 47, is an FDNY battalion chief and a son of the legendary fire commander Ray Downey, who is credited as the force behind a nationwide system of urban search-and-rescue teams. He was among the 343 city firefighters who died Sept. 11, 2001.

Joseph Downey is the joint leader of the special New York City urban search-and-rescue team tapped by the federal government that will work in Haiti to find survivors and help victims of Tuesday's earthquake.

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The unit is also being led by NYPD Deputy Insp. Robert Lukach, formerly of Levittown and now of upstate Port Jervis.

The specialized unit, one of several being sent by the United States, had expected to take off Thursday. But the logistic and transportation bottleneck in Haiti delayed the flight.

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