Royal New Zealand Air Force NH-90 helicopters and their crews are continuing to provide sterling service in Australia, lifting their fair share of the load in the battle against the bushfires.
In the skies over the nation’s capital, the NH-90s of 3 Squadron RNZAF can be seen delivering Air Mobile Response Teams from the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to bush clearings in the surrounding native forests, where the soldiers are clearing access tracks and helicopter landing points for the Australian Capital Territory’s Emergency Services Agency.
The grey helicopters are proving ideal for the task, capable of carrying 12 passengers or a mixture of personnel and equipment.
Their winches have also proven their worth in winching soldiers and their chainsaws into overgrown landing points for clearance operations.
For 3 Squadron pilot Flight Lieutenant Loic ‘Frenchy’ Ifrah, the opportunity to serve in Australia is both humbling and an honour.
“It’s great to help out our partners across the Tasman,” Flight Lieutenant Ifrah said.
The unfortunate circumstances of the aviator’s deployment have brought extremely challenging flying situations where everyone’s skills have been taxed to the limit.
“We’ve had conditions where visibility has been reduced to almost nothing, perhaps 100m on some days” he said.
“They’re conditions we haven’t experienced in New Zealand. There’s often smoke from fires in the immediate vicinity, then there’s the smoke haze that covers swathes of the countryside that make it very challenging to fly.”
Corporal Bruce Cane is a 3 Squadron helicopter loadmaster who has seen plenty of Australian countryside from the open side door of the MRH-90s as they criss-cross south-east New South Wales.
Corporal Cane transferred from the Territorial Army to the Air Force in 2017, and his initial ideas about life as an aircrewman have been surpassed.
“It’s been everything and more,” Corporal Cane said.
“I wasn’t sure about what I would get out of it, but the people I am surrounded by, the jobs I’ve been able to go away and do, and the people I have been able to help have made it incredibly fulfilling.”
Corporal Cane was notified on a Saturday afternoon that he was needed for overseas service, and on the Monday he was on his way to the naval base HMAS Albatross at Nowra on the New South Wales south coast. He said the events that unfolded from then were very powerful.
“The level of devastation south of Nowra is quite intense,” he said.
“I know we are definitely doing what we can – delivering fuel and fodder to isolated communities. We’ve also been taking 7RAR infantry into the forests to create firebreaks outside of Canberra.
“For me, the biggest thing has been meeting the people. In times like these it’s really great to see the communities come together. The level of gratefulness the people have shown us whenever we have landed and talked to them has been awesome.”
Video of the New Zealand helicopter support is available here.