Monday, April 22, 2024

Air Force drop in to Hawke’s Bay schools

Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle was one of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) largest-ever domestic responses, in particular for the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). 

To mark one year since the devastating weather event, a No. 3 Squadron NH90 helicopter flew from RNZAF Base Ohakea and visited a number of schools in Hawke’s Bay to facilitate koha exchanges, and give students a chance to meet the crew and board the helicopter.

Flight Lieutenant Lachie Huddleston, who grew up in Hawke’s Bay, was part of the Air Force’s response team following Cyclone Gabrielle, and remembers flying over scenes of devastation.

“Today is so different. You can see the blue sky,” he said.

“It has a much calmer and more relaxed feeling than a year ago.”

He said it was heart-warming to return to the same areas that were so badly damaged this time last year.

“It’s really cool for us to check in on these communities and see how they are going. They are all positive and thriving. They’re still affected, but they are getting on with their lives.

“It’s great for us to be a part of, because all we ever see is the initial emergency response, we only get involved when things are really bad. So we like to touch base with them a year on, particularly when the sun is out.”

Havelock North Primary School students were the first to greet No. 3 Squadron, where an army of students helped load up the NH90 with dozens of gift boxes filled with food and supplies to be delivered to Kererū Primary School. 

Kererū Primary School Principal, Kelsie Allen said she was “overwhelmed” by the generosity and the kindness of people. She had never even met Havelock North Primary School teacher Annie Boyd, who’d organised the event.

“She said she wanted to do this and I’m still shocked. It will take a while to unpack,” Ms Allen said.

“This will affect the community in such a positive way. Our community has come together following the cyclone really closely. This is just another way to bring us together.

“I know so many other people are doing it tough out there in other communities, not just ours, so we are just so appreciative.”

For nine weeks following the cyclone, Ms Allen and some of the school’s pupils could only get to school by hitching a ride on a tractor trailer.

“I went for a walk this morning and watched the sun come up and I thought how a year can change things. It’s made me so much more appreciative of bridges and culverts.

“As I was driving over our new bridge this morning, I thought how pleased I was to have it back.”

Despite progress in the region, the Kererū Gorge remains out of action and one of the school’s teachers still has to ride a bike across farmland to get to work.

A second koha exchange was then facilitated between Hastings Boys’ High School and Eskdale Primary School.

No. 3 Squadron was welcomed on to Hastings Boys’ High School field with a rousing haka.

Head boy, Osiris White Munro and deputy head boy, Brayden Reeve, were then chosen to board the NH90 and flew with the crew to Eskdale, where they met fellow pupils to present their financial koha.

Neither Osiris nor Brayden had ever been in a helicopter before and were “truly stoked” to have been given the opportunity.

“You wouldn’t even realise we had a cyclone a year ago with all the progress we’ve made. But there are still communities out there that are hard hit,” Osiris said.

Brayden said he felt privileged to be part of the day’s events.

“It’s a true honour and we both appreciate this opportunity. It’s hard to put into words how far we’ve come as a community and as individuals.

Eskdale Primary School Principal Tristan Cheer said the school had been told earlier in the week about the anniversary commemorations and that Hastings Boys’ High School had collected koha to donate to them.

“But the thing our students were most excited about was the Air Force’s helicopter landing on our field,” he said.

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