Pregnant women were among those supported by personnel from RAAF Base Richmond when emergency services on March 23 evacuated people trapped in the biggest floods to hit the Sydney region in more than 30 years.

The base acted as a reception point for the evacuees airlifted from flood-affected areas.

Heavy rainfall from March 18-23 in the catchment areas around Sydney led to the flooding of the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers.

The floodplain adjacent to RAAF Base Richmond also was flooded, and while small areas of the base were affected, the runway and other essential facilities remained clear.

With nearby towns in the Hawkesbury region cut off, a request came through on March 23 for RAAF Base Richmond to support New South Wales emergency services, which were conducting rescue missions and relief work in the area.

Floodwaters around RAAF Base Richmond. Photo: Rear Admiral Robert Plath

Helicopters from Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW State Emergency Service, New South Wales Police, and New South Wales Rural Fire Service along with others operated from the base.

Senior Australian Defence Force Officer for RAAF Base Richmond Air Commodore Carl Newman said once the request came for RAAF Base Richmond to support the rescue efforts, the base was quickly prepared to be a reception point for residents being airlifted from the nearby Colo River area.

“In quick order, we received several helicopters onto the base, and they were launched on a rescue mission but were unable to reach the Colo area due to poor weather," he said.

“Fortunately, these residents were evacuated throughout the day by boat.”

The base continued to support other helicopter missions flown throughout the day.

“Toll Ambulance helicopters conducted four missions from North Richmond to the base, delivering elderly patients and near-term pregnant women,” Air Commodore Newman said.

“Some of these evacuees were assisted by personnel from our own Richmond Health Centre on their arrival, before they were handed on to their friends and local medical services.

“The team at No. 22 Squadron, Joint Health as well as our No. 453 Squadron air traffic control detachment, were instrumental to supporting emergency services get the job done.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks with ADF personnel at RAAF Base Richmond after a helicopter flight over flood-affected areas in NSW. Photo: Corporal David Said

Air Commodore Newman said the base’s integration of the uniformed, Australian Public Service and contracted workforce was key to the rescue efforts.

Airbase operational support – from No. 22 Squadron and Richmond detachments for No. 2 Security Forces Squadron and No. 453 Squadron air traffic control – was essential.

“A natural disaster like this challenges many of the services we take for granted on our bases, especially for estate, infrastructure, and garrison management,” Air Commodore Newman said. 

“Heavy rain and flood waters brought with it power outages and some building damage, and our civilian workforce worked with the base operations team to source generators and prioritise and enacted repairs throughout the week.

“The resilience of this base’s workforce has ensured state emergency services can support the community, and kept us ready to support wider Defence operations.”

On March 24, Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited RAAF Base Richmond to thank the workforce and see the effects of the flood on the area.

“The scale of the damage is significant and I'm committed to continuing to provide all support necessary,” Mr Morrison said.

“I took briefings from the Australian Defence Force and people in the community assisting with the recovery to get a better understanding of the issues.

“Our ADF is providing direct support to the search-and-rescue efforts and logistical support to air and water movements with the SES in the area.”

A Navy MRH-90 Taipan helicopter taxis to the RAAF Base Richmond runway before taking off for a flight over flood-affected areas in NSW. Photo: Corporal David Said