Regiment provides flood of support

It was almost 11am on December 18 when Captain Reilly O’Neill received the call, and 24 hours later he was airborne along the coast of Far North Queensland.

CAPTIONAn Australian Army CH-47F Chinook delivers plant equipment and additional personnel to the community of Bloomfield, Queensland, as part of the ADF support to the region following Ex Tropical Cyclone Jasper. Story by Corporal Michael Rogers. Photo by Leading Seaman Jarrod Mulvihill.

In the wake of Cyclone Jasper, the Chinook pilot from 5th Aviation Regiment had expected to be recalled, but he wasn’t expecting to see destruction on such a scale.

“Coming into Cairns you could still see flooding in the low-lying areas, but as we travelled further north you could see quite significant landslides had occurred, which cut off the main highway to Port Douglas and further north,” Captain O’Neill said.

“I had plans to be in Port Douglas to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Luckily we made the early decision not to go or I probably would have been stuck there for a few weeks.”

Flying into Wujal Wujal, the devastation was apparent. Floodwater had ravaged the remote community, leaving roads washed away or blocked by fallen trees and destroyed houses.

After touching down at the only place clear enough to land – the local tip – Aircrewman Corporal Thomas Palmer met members of the community to arrange evacuations.

CAPTIONSoldiers from 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment assist members of the communities impacted by flooding in Far North Queensland.

“The community was extremely cooperative, and with the help of a few 51 FNQR [51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment] members, we were able to get a pretty good system going,” he said.

A large portion of the evacuees were elderly and unable to walk, and were prioritised for evacuation with the help of the Red Cross and Queensland police.

From December 19 to 23, the task group evacuated 265 people from Wujal Wujal to Cooktown; delivered almost 35,000 pounds of food, bedding and medical supplies to other remote communities; and moved 135 emergency response personnel, including Red Cross, police and government representatives.

The Chinooks from 5th Aviation Regiment were flying from Townsville each day as part of the whole-of-government response to the flooding in north Queensland.

It was Major Amy Power’s first time leading an Army aviation task unit supporting Defence community assistance, but she said they were well prepared.

“We put in a lot of work prior to Christmas to prepare for the high-risk weather season, in terms of making sure the aircraft were serviceable,” Major Power said.

“To run such a successful mission and to be able to support the community in a way other people couldn’t was a really good way to finish off.”

Major Power took command again when a recovery task force was stood up in the new year. Chinooks from 5th Aviation Regiment provided support through troop and equipment movement to the remote community.

Corporal Palmer was an MRH-90 crewman during Operation Flood Assist in 2022, and said the Chinooks were well suited for this task.

“It was a nice feeling to walk away from the job and know that we’ve helped out a community that pretty much lost everything,” he said.


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