26 September 2023

Defence shines after tsunami hits Tonga

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The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has completed reconnaissance flights over Tonga at the request of the country’s Government to survey the damage caused by last month’s tsunamis.

Chinook helicopter detachment commander with the Australian Army, Major Richard Bremner said the initial flights provided an opportunity to gain greater understanding of the islands and the devastation caused.

“We have discovered more people on the islands than expected,” Major Bremner said.

“That’s of interest to both the Government of Tonga and to us, particularly when applying COVID-safe measures to relief operations,” he said.

“We may need to determine how we can work with the Government of Tonga to support the movement of those people if we are requested to conduct tasks on those islands.”

Major Bremner said to protect Tonga’s COVID-free status, ADF personnel involved in Operation Tonga Assist had had no face-to-face contact with the Tongan community.

He said three Australian Army CH-47F Chinook helicopters, operating from the flight deck of the Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock HMAS Adelaide, were assigned to the Operation.

“HMAS Adelaide’s embarked helicopters have also been used to observe the extent of airborne volcanic ash, which can cause havoc with civil and military aviation by degrading engines and airframes,” he said.

“It is nice to see the air is relatively clear.”

Major Bremner said in addition to aviation lift and airborne reconnaissance, HMAS Adelaide had small water craft to conduct reconnaissance by sea.

“A small boats platoon from 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, will be employed as the primary reconnaissance element to prove safe passage and identify potential landing sites for Army engineers,” said Small Boats Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Jordan Chee.

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