On Thursday, East Sale RAAF base came alive with the roar of helicopters as less smoky conditions allowed the first flights in a couple of days.
As part of Operation Bushfire Assist, two Chinooks belonging to the Singaporean Army took to the air, transporting CFA and SES volunteers, as well as army personnel up the coast.
One of those SES volunteers was born and bred Bairnsdale man and SES volunteer of 10 years, Pat Dwyer.
Mr Dwyer, (pictured on page 4) said he and fellow volunteers were sent to relieve the local volunteers who had been on the ground since the fire began.
“We will do whatever jobs pop up like helping with the convoys to Eden by clearing fallen trees across the road,” Mr Dwyer said.
“There’s always something you can do to help. And although it doesn’t seem much, it all helps.”
When asked why he volunteered, Mr Dwyer was matter-of-fact.
“I don’t want to sound clichéd, but I see a need for it,” he said.
“I suppose we all expect someone will turn up and help us when we need it.
“So if it’s good enough for someone else to volunteer, then it’s good enough for me to volunteer.”
A third Chinook, boarded by the Bairnsdale Advertiser, took an external load of gas bottles, weighing more than 3.6 tonnes, to Mallacoota.
The CH-47F Chinook was operated by C Squadron, 5th Aviation Regiment, Australian Army as part of joint task force 646.
The aircraft took the coastal route at about 106 metres above land, making the journey in just over an hour.
The ferocity of the fires throughout the bushland adjoining the coast was painfully evident with blackened trees burnt to cinders, and what canopy was left was burnt orange.
It could be called a ‘moonscape’ but the moon doesn’t have trees black to their tops on it.
As the Chinook’s pilot, Captain Shane Mitchell, put it, the fires had “burnt to the beach”.
Flight engineer, Sergeant John van-Vegchel said the Chinook and crew were from Townsville, which had left there on January 1 to help with Operation Bushfire Assist, and was involved in the evacuation of people from Omeo.
The crew expected to be helping people to return to their properties across the weekend.
Flight Lieutenant Bel Scott said Defence Force members were glad to be able to help on Australian soil.
“It’s good to be able to showcase to the Australian community what we can do,” she said.
“And the international support we have received has been awesome.”
Capt Mitchell said the load of gas bottles had ‘flown beautifully’ but were quite a heavy load.
The Chinook returned to East Sale RAAF base for a ‘hottie’, which in layman’s terms means refueling while the engines and rotors are still running, then flew back to Orbost to transport hay into isolated properties.
Capt Mitchell said hay bales were a ‘standard external load’ and would be taken to farms at Combienbar, north of Mallacoota and Genoa.
According to national Defence Force statistics, more than 800 Air Force personnel from approximately 71 units are working in support of Operation Bushfire Assist.
Total flights since then have numbered more than 270 by RAAF aircraft.
Since the Air Force began providing support to the bushfire crisis in September 2019, it has shifted 2,264,697 pounds (1027t) of cargo, 6175 passengers and completed 639 flying hours.
IMAGE: A CFA contingent makes its way towards a Chinook at the East Sale RAAF base to take them to Mallacoota on Thursday. The Singaporean Army has brought in two Chinooks to help with Operation Bushfire Assist. K42-4015