A Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 helicopter spent the first day of catastrophic fire conditions on search and rescue missions to support firefighting efforts around Kempsey, New South Wales.
The helicopter kept ahead of the fire front to ensure property owners were well prepared and equipped for the approaching firestorm.
Flying low over properties in the direct path of the fire, the aircrew made hand signals to property owners and were prepared to evacuate any who did not give the ‘thumbs up’.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Cairncross piloted one of the first missions, making several landings for the specialist fire fighter on board to engage with community members.
“The MRH-90 has the capability to quickly move more people and equipment than fire-fighting helicopters can,” Lieutenant Commander Cairncross said.
“I have never witnessed the intensity of a firestorm engulfing an entire mountain in less than five minutes.
“It was an extremely dynamic environment to fly in and challenging for the entire crew.
Mr Jeff Hodder, Aviation Rescue Crewman, is one of only 30 specialist volunteers with the NSW Rural Fire Service and joined the MRH-90 crew for these first missions.
“I am a volunteer with the Cowan Brigade, on the fringe of Sydney just south of the Hawkesbury River,” Mr Hodder said.
“I had been out fighting fires on the ground on Friday night and Saturday morning around Taree before my first ever flight in a Navy helicopter.
Both men agreed that proving the interoperability between the Royal Australian Navy and Rural Fire Service under such extreme conditions had been a great learning experience.
Defence is continuing with work to ensure arrangements are in place to allow call out of Reservists to support significant national emergencies if required to supplement ADF regular personnel.
Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20 imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: https://images.defence.gov.au/S20192970.
Visit the Defence News website for the latest information on Australian Defence Force support for the firefighting effort against the New South Wales and Queensland bushfires.