Auckland Man Helps Fly Aid to Quake-Ravaged Indonesian City
Auckland Man Helps Fly Aid to Quake-Ravaged
Six years ago, Max Longdill often saw military planes flying at Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Base Auckland as he drove past to and from Westlake Boys High School.
A few days ago, he came back from Indonesia, where he deployed as a pilot to support the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) humanitarian aid mission following last month’s earthquake and tsunami on Sulawesi Island.
“The opportunity to help people in need was the most rewarding thing about our deployment,” Flying Officer Longdill said.
“We were one of the first two foreign aircraft to bring aid to Palu. Although we had a relatively small contingent, we were all keen to help out.”
During their week-long deployment, a 15-member NZDF detachment and an RNZAF C-130 Hercules aircraft formed part of an international air bridge that transported aid and rescue personnel and evacuated survivors from the quake-ravaged city of Palu.
“Everywhere we went, the Indonesians showed us that they were glad we were there. They shook our hands and took photos with us,” Flying Officer Longdill said.
As the co-pilot of the Hercules, he helped deliver about 70 tonnes of aid and evacuate 160 survivors to Balikpapan, a port city in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province that served as the hub of multinational air operations to disaster zones.
“The first time we flew into Palu was about a week after the disasters and we were shocked by the destruction,” he said. “Thousands of homes were flattened, the coastline had been destroyed by the tsunami and there was massive liquefaction.”
Palu’s topography, combined with the impacts of the earthquake, posed additional challenges to the aircrew, he said.
“Palu is located in a large valley. There is only one way in and one way out.”
Aircrew also had to be especially vigilant of airfield conditions and other air traffic, because the earthquake had knocked down the air traffic control tower.
“It was very busy, with numerous fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters bringing in aid and rescue personnel.”
The highlight for Flying Officer Longdill was the first NZDF aid flight to Palu on 5 October, when they evacuated 120 survivors to Balikpapan.
“The evacuees, who had lived through the twin disasters, were visibly relieved as soon as they got on our Herc. Despite what they had been through, they were very polite and thanked us for helping.”
Flying Officer Longdill joined the RNZAF in January 2013 and qualified to fly the Hercules in September 2016. He credits his interest in aviation partly to an uncle who is a commercial jet pilot.
The C-130 Hercules aircraft is often deployed on the NZDF’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. In March, Flying Officer Longdill deployed with the Hercules to deliver 10 tonnes of aid to Papua New Guinea, following the 7.5-magnitude earthquake in late February.
The aircraft and six Air Load Specialists also helped deliver emergency supplies to remote areas of Papua New Guinea’s Highlands region.
“Being a pilot is a great job but the most rewarding thing is being able to help those in need,” Flying Officer Longdill said.