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42 Squadron on Deployment

Reconnaissance flight over Epi,a small island North West of Port Vila, Vanuatu by RNZAF King Air B200 to assess the damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam

27 March 2015

The RNZAF No 42 Squadron has operationally deployed to support NZDF relief effort in Vanuatu. “It’s an awesome opportunity for the squadron” says FLTLT Nick Dawson. This is the first time the Air Force’s King Air B200s have deployed as part of a Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) response.

SQNLDR Campbell Hardey, FLTLT Samuel Paterson and FLTLT Dawson deployed to Port Vila on Thursday, six days after the devastating Tropical Cyclone Pam. Port Vila is 2200 km from Auckland, no small feat for the twin engine plane. The squadron went via Norfolk Island to refuel with the flight taking all day.

Once on the ground the Joint Task Force starting working up plans and missions for the squadron. The immediate focus being Epi, a small island North West of Port Vila.  The reconnaissance flights assessed feasibility of runways, level of damaged sustained to buildings and other infrastructure primarily in Shefa Province. This critical task helped determine what was to be loaded to HMNZS CANTERBURY, which left Devonport Naval Base on Sunday for Vanuatu..

Vanuatu is an archipelago in the South Pacific which consists of 82 relatively small islands. Poor communication systems even before the cyclone hit has impacted the ability to communicate the extent of the damage. Radio coverage is poor with the normal method of communication being via mobile phones is only now starting to come back online. The reconnaissance flights have been a key enabler for the Joint Task Force.

The opportunity to deploy in support of this type of mission for the squadron is unusual. Normally the squadron trains RNZAF pilots for multi-engine aircraft. The opportunity to have an operational impact is a great experience for the squadron.

Each flight is accompanied by a Vanuatu government representative who is able to identify key locations to the team. The extra seats have been taken up by Vanuatu locals who have been extremely grateful for the opportunity to see their home villages for the first time since  Cyclone Pam struck  late on March 13.

The NZDF is part an all-of-government response to Cyclone Pam. The response includes personnel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Health and NZ Police.  Vanuatu has asked New Zealand to provide support to the islands in the Shefa Province. The Joint Task Force first deployed as a Joint Reconnaissance Team before being augmented to stand up as a Joint Task Force lite. This week HMNZS CANTERBURY and further C-130 flights will arrive to enhance New Zealand’s response.

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