A month since the first of three Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) NH-90 helicopters arrived in Australia as part of Operation Bushfire Assist, the last helicopter to leave has been transported home to RNZAF Base Ohakea by a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177 Globemaster III.

Collectively flying over 170 hours during 42 missions for Operation Bushfire Assist, No. 3 Squadron supported state authorities and the ADF to undertake a range of tasks during their 28 days of operation, including Search and Rescue, fire spotting, personnel recovery, welfare checks and the deployment of both ADF and Rural Fire Service capability.

They also airlifted more than 650 passengers and 7260kg of cargo.

Working alongside Air Mobile Response Teams from 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, No. 3 Squadron supported the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) with clearing helicopter landing zones.

“We flew reconnaissance sorties so overgrown landing pads could be identified for clearing,” Flight Lieutenant Kieran Moratti said.

A RNZAF NH-90 helicopter pilot for No. 3 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Moratti was the operations manager for the squadron, which was based out of HMAS Albatross near Nowra in NSW.

“We winched the 7th Battalion teams down onto overgrown landing pads so they could clear them before we went back and landed to pick them up," Flight Lieutenant Moratti said.

“The state authorities were then able to use those landing pads to deploy firefighting strike teams in the nearby vicinity.

With the ability to fly at night, No.3 Squadron tracked and mapped fires using night vision goggles and relayed the information back to the ESA.

It also helped the NSW Rural Fire Service undertake welfare checks of properties in remote locations near Wyndham in south-east NSW.

“We followed the fire front and searched for properties that had been cut-off by the fires,” Flight Lieutenant Moratti said.

“We had RFS crews on board who could go down our rescue hoists to do a welfare check to see if anyone needed help.

Now back in New Zealand, Flight Lieutenant Moratti and his team are on standby to assist with possible evacuations as a result of torrential rain and flash flooding in the south of New Zealand.

“It’s great to be able to do what we’re trained to do and to use the skills I’ve learnt over the years to help people in need,” he said.