After the earthquakes in Kaikoura last week, the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin, Commanding Officer CMDR Phillip Henry and her crew were sent to support the response to the emergency.
As Lieutenant Brett Schulz said, in the Navy you have to “remain rubbery” – flexible and ready for change.
“One minute you might be ironing your whites in preparation for a Fleet Review, the next minute you’re in a sea boat heading ashore to render assistance to an earthquake affected town.”
LSET Vinnie Carrol and LSA Dan Colbert have shared their experiences helping the people of Kaikoura.
LSET Vinnie Carrol
Today was hands down one of the best experiences in my 12-year career in the Royal Australian Navy.
I was fortunate enough to be one of a 28 person working party to step ashore in the small town ship of Kaikoura and help the locals with whatever tasking was required of us after the earth quake. The ships company were regaled with stories of the great work already done by the previous days working party, so we were eager to get in there and do our part.
After a short trip over to the wharf in our own ships RHIB’s, we stood on the wharf with members of the Canadian Navy and the NZ Navy. There we awaited transport to the local library that has been turned into a work force management centre. After a short bus trip we arrived at the centre and awaited tasking.
A call came in asking for 3 personnel with any building experience to which myself, ABEW Bates and SMNBM Whitaker jumped on. The group comprised of us three and a very happy go lucky NZ Sailor by the name of Sam. We headed down to the fire station and where meet by a NZ Urban Search and Rescue (NZUSR) Squad leader named Hull. Now Hully’s personality can only be described as larger than life, He quickly started cracking jokes about getting stuck with Aussie’s, so we gave it back as good as we got. Our task, under the eye of Hully and his technician mate Peterson, was to brace or Navy speak “Shore” the wall of the local surf shop as the wall had been deemed structurally unsound by the engineers. Our team was shown a few shoring techniques by the NZUSR boys and we were off like a shot.
In true Naval form 10:00, down tools, time for stand easy. Hully had organised coffee for us at the little cafe down the road. The cafe had just opened and the owners had the coffee ready and sat us down for chat and also to say thank you. After the coffee it was back on the tools!! (I was like a kid in a toy store) did I mention best day ever?
Time for lunch, our team headed back down to the fire station and ate with the Red Cross volunteers and the NZUSR personnel. The food was catered for by the NZ military and it was delicious, no one was leaving there unsatisfied. After a few great chats with the NZ Navy, Red Cross and NZUSR personnel we headed back to the job site to finish the Shore-up.
After a lot more effort on the tools, and a heap of banter with Hully, the job was complete and the wall was deemed safe. While packing up the tools the owner of one of the stores nearby came over and thanked us for our efforts and expressed how much it means to the store owner to be able to now safely enter his store to save some the stock inside.
Overall Today was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Very many thanks to the NZ Navy, Red cross and NZUSR.
LSA DAN COLBERT – FLYING OPS
After sun broke the horizon on the morning we arrived and the image of the epic landscape was fully revealed I looked in absolute awe for about half an hour. I noticed a lot of huge sections of land had fallen away from a lot of different mountains not far from the main town of Kaikoura. Wondering to myself, what on earth can we do to help here? We definitely weren’t going to be clearing roads or re-building rail lines that service the cut off villages or main town, but as it turns out there was plenty they could use our helo for.
First job for our Helo, named “Fluffy” and the crew was to get the CO and other key personnel ashore to liaise with the organisers for proper tasking. It was then decided in the morning of the following day we would start off by joining 4 other medium lift military helicopters to deliver much needed supplies that were packed and ready on board HMNZS Canterbury. The morning was busy and the sky full of rotary wing aircraft, maybe as many as 7 at any one time, which kept the radios going flat out. All of that combined with the internal crew communication required for complicated, close proximity pick ups and drop offs to/from multiple ship and shore locations had everyone working nice and hard from the get go.
After a big flying day moving 11.5 tonnes (40 lifts of underslung cargo) of produce, supplies, and equipment the maintenance crew received the call to re-configure the aircraft cabin (install seating) so we could move our shipmates, who had been working ashore, back to the ship. Four ferry flights and 23 personnel later Fluffy landed back on Darwin and was shutdown for the night, only 5 minutes before the flying maintenance window was due to expire.
The morning of day three was spent re-supplying the hard working ships within the task force with food to feed their own troops and sailors. Another 16 underslung loads had been moved when the request came in for Fluffy and the crew to fly inland and pick up nearly a tonne of equipment (in a single lift) to repair and replace telegraph poles and restore much needed power to some of the smaller villages who were still without. Some accurate fuel/load/aircraft weight calculations were made, we topped up with a just enough fuel to ensure the pick up wouldn’t overstrain Fluffy and off we went.
The last major tasking was completed. We were about a tonne lighter, and had all been staring at that epic landscape for days now, wondering if when the opportunity would arise to check it out a bit?
Being part of a unit or team who are in the right place at the right time to accept short notice aid to civil community tasking would have to be one of the most rewarding things about being in the defence force. Knowing that all that capability, knowledge, and expertise that we have on board a ship like HMAS Darwin is being put to really good use to help people when they really need it most.
Another very rewarding thing is when we have an opportunity to explore a new port, city, country etc. we do, and we make the most of it! So that afternoon with the hour spare we had we returned to Darwin, picked up some ship mates to fill the remaining seats in the aircraft and went exploring through those epic mountains that were our backdrop for the last few days!
Photos by LSIS James Whittle and LSEW Nathan Streeter