A Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster flew to Vanuatu twice in recent days with a single load of humanitarian aid for Tropical Cyclone Harold relief – but Defence ignored the first flight, which didn’t land.
CAPTION: A No. 36 Squadron C-17A Globemaster departs RAAF Base Amberley for Vanuatu with humanitarian aid. Photo by Corporal Nicci Freeman – taken on 10 April 2020.
There was no Defence press release or other official information offered, so CONTACT’s information comes from numerous sources, including embedded photo captions, explanatory notes provided with a Defence YouTube video, the official Defence Facebook page – plus other-media reporting.
And here’s where it starts to get messy…
The official-photo caption above says a Royal Australian Air Force No. 36 Squadron C-17A Globemaster departed RAAF Base Amberley for Vanuatu on 10 April 2020 – yet the YouTube information says the aircraft was loaded on 9 April and delivered its load on 12 April – completely ignoring the fact that the aircraft made two trips to Vanuatu but came home without landing on the first attempt on 10 April.
Also, the official Defence Facebook page talks about the mission without any dates – but uses the departure photo from 10 April and the unloading photos from 12 April in the same post without explanation or clarification or captioning.
“C-17A Globemaster III from No. 36 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley delivered pallets of humanitarian aid to support the disaster relief efforts of the Vanuatu Government,” the YouTube information said.
“The aircraft was prepared and loaded with stores from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by Air Movements personnel from No. 23 Squadron on the morning of 9 April 2020, the mission then departed on the morning of 12 April 2020” – completely ignoring the six-hour round trip on 10 April.
Reports from other media outlets said the first sortie to Vanuatu turned back after circling the airport and receiving air-traffic-control clearance to land, because a Chinese aircraft was parked on the end of the runway.
While CONTACT has no doubts or qualms about the decision of the aircraft captain to abort his initial flight, presumably on safety grounds*, we are cranky about this as another abject failure of Defence PR to truthfully inform the Australian public.
This isn’t a case of Defence PR not being there or not having the information available or not caring enough to send at least one of its more than 300 PR professionals on at least one of the flights – this is a clear case of ad-hoc pieces of information from disparate sources failing to tell the whole, truthful story.
It is also another example of official Defence records being incomplete, inaccurate and untrustworthy, not just in today’s news cycle, but also for when tomorrow’s researchers or historians seek to tell RAAF’s history.
*Other media outlets say the flight on 10 April was given air-traffic-control permission to land and that the Australian aircraft circled the airport several times before departing. While CONTACT first assumed the flight was abandoned over safety concerns that a Chinese aircraft was parked at the end of the runway, Defence added doubt on this point too by saying on Facebook that, “Australia’s response to Tropical Cyclone Harold has taken the threat of COVID-19 to Vanuatu as a key consideration as part of force preservation and safety“.
Of course, there would be no doubt or need for speculation if Defence PR was open, honest and forthright with information in the first place.