RAAF C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifters have brought tonnes of aid and relief to thousands of displaced citizens in Vanuatu.
CAPTION: RAAF Sergeant Matt Jones (centre) directs Leading Aircraftwoman Laura Gale as she removes a pallet of Australian Aid supplies from a C-17 Globemaster in Vanuatu during Operation Vanuatu Assist 2017. Photo by Leading Seaman Jake Badior.
Deployed under Operation Vanuatu Assist 2017, the jet transports have delivered Australian Aid following the evacuation of the entire island of Ambae and its approximately 11,600 residents, as the island’s Manaro Volcano threatens to erupt.
Australian Deputy High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Susan Ryle, said the aid is helping people who had to leave practically everything behind on the island.
‘The government here in Vanuatu declared a State of Emergency and evacuated the entire island of Ambae,” she said.
“People are now displaced and they’re being housed in Santo, Maewo and in the island of Pentecost.
“The Australian Aid includes tents for families, community tents and a number of kitchen sets carrying pots and pans that can be used for basic cooking.”
Many evacuees from Ambae fled to the nearby island of Espiritu Santo.
Adding to difficulties, Santo Pekoa International Airport on Espiritu Santo possesses limited infrastructure, but this logistical challenge was overcome by forward planning of the RAAF Mobile Air Load Team, with plenty of local hands willing to help too.
No. 36 Squadron C-17A pilot Flying Officer Jake Nicholas was impressed with the combination of RAAF expertise and local enthusiasm.
“Coming into Santo we brought one forklift with us, but with the help of locals, many hands made light work and they helped us offload the aircraft in a nice short time,” he said.
Working in tandem with the forklift, a flatbed truck was reversed up to the rear of the C-17A to allow RAAF personnel and local workers to unload the valuable stores.
“The C17 is perfect for this role,” Flying Officer Nicholas said.
“We have a short airfield here, it’s very narrow, and we had enough fuel on board to come here and go back to Brisbane.”
The initial humanitarian C17 flight to Santo Pekoa airport has been followed by several others.
Mrs Ryle said the integrated DFAT-led Australian response approach allowed Australia to respond quickly to calls for help from regional nations.
“DFAT is working closely with the ADF, the Government of Vanuatu and provincial authorities to ensure that we get this humanitarian assistance to those in need,” she said.
A separate C17 flight to the capital, Port Vila, carried an Army MRH90 helicopter that is being assigned to the recently arrived amphibious operations ship HMAS Choules – making this a tri-service ADF response to the volcano crisis.