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Navy helicopter crew sustain bushfire ravaged wildlife

written by Dylan Nicholson | March 31, 2020

Navy personnel have conducted a series of helicopter fodder drops to support animals without a food source in areas devastated by this year’s massive bushfires.

Shoalhaven mayor Amanda Findley got a ‘birdies’ eye view of the devastation caused by the recent bushfires when she joined 808 Squadron in an MRH-90 helicopter to conduct a fodder drop.

“Recovery is such a slow and pain-filled journey, in many areas the bush has been burned so hot in some parts there is no regrowth at all,” Cr Findley said.

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Personnel from 808 Squadron are very familiar with the impact of the fires, having played a key role in the emergency response to Australia’s bushfire crisis, not only in the Shoalhaven, but also assisting with evacuation operations in Victoria, delivering liaison teams into isolated areas, dropping food, water and medical supplies into Mallacoota, and resupplying HMAS Choules with everything from nappies for the children of the evacuees to food for the galley.

Commander Paul Hannigan, 808 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, said it had been a demanding time for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA).

“Since November 2019, the FAA Squadrons have flown a total of 640 hours in support of Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20,” he said. “Of these 640 hours, 808SQN flew a total of 310 hours. We were the smallest unit with the highest output.”

CMDR Hannigan described the scale of destruction as “daunting.”

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“I flew over the Western Training Area a few weeks back and it was a moonscape of black ash and bare tree trunks,” he said.

Pilot, Lieutenant Commander Jack Wadey, flew Cr Findley out to Moreton National Park in the NSW Southern Highlands to conduct the forage drop of carrots and sweet potatoes.

“It was encouraging to see some signs of regeneration,” LCDR Wadey said.

“I noticed a lot of the gum trees are starting to grow some green foliage and there is some greenery starting to come through on the ground close to the rivers and waterways.

“Otherwise there is nothing on the ground outside of this.”

Despite the normal protocol being not to feed wildlife, these are exceptional circumstances.

An estimated 1 billion animals lost their lives in the bushfires and it is hoped that food drops such as this one will help to sustain wildlife while the bush regenerates.

Leading Seaman Aircrewman Bradley Thomas of 808 Squadron dropping carrots from an MRH-90 helicopter to feed local wildlife in the fire ravaged Moreton National Park near HMAS Albatross, NSW (RAN)

CMDR Hannigan said the MRH-90 flight over the area allowed Cr Findley to see the extent of the fires in real-time and appreciate just how lucky the Nowra/Shoalhaven area was as it could have been significantly worse.

“Additionally, I hope she got an appreciation for the MRH-90 as a capable platform and for the professionalism of 808 Squadron’s aircrew,” he said.

Cr Findley described the experience as an honour.

“Thank you so much to all of our wildlife feeders, carers, medical assistants and to the ADF for doing amazing remote air relief for our animals – it was such a privilege to be able to join the Navy Team yesterday afternoon on the MRH-90,” she said.

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