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Armed response

The Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 3 Squadron recently trained with New Zealand Police tactical teams in a pilot recertification exercise based on a rescue scenario of a person being held at a remote Wellington location by several armed offenders.

26 July, 2022

The wind was wild and the moon was bright as the helicopters moved in on the location.

Three NH90 helicopters carrying members of the Wellington Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) and Special Tactics Group (STG) flew from the Air Force’s Air Movements terminal at Rongotai in Wellington in response to the scenario.

One police team was unloaded on a hill nearby. An STG team, with a police dog, fast-roped from an NH90 closer to the action and the third NH90 helicopter hovered above the location with a police observer and medics on board.

The STG team breached the door of a building. One ‘offender’ fled and was tracked by helicopter and the police dog team and was arrested. Another drove off, abandoned his vehicle and was tracked and arrested by the dog team with support from the helicopter.

Wearing night vision goggles and combatting strong winds, NH90 co-pilot Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Paul Robinson said the conditions were at the limit of what they could fly in.

“The wind was quite challenging. To be able to operate in those conditions was beneficial because it’s likely that we can achieve a more covert operation.”

The sound of the wind worked in their favour by blocking the sound of the loud rotor blades, FLTLT Robinson said.

“For me it was a qualification for air assault flying. I was flying the NH90 that landed on a hill with AOS acting as the cordon team.”

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An NH90 helicopter at the ready

An NH90 helicopter at the ready

It was always good to work with police, to build relationships, he said.

“In the case of something like this ever happening, we want to have a good understanding of what each other does. To be able to practise like this is a great opportunity.”

  • Flight Lieutenant Paul Robinson, NH90 co-pilot

The aircrew were using night vision goggles during the training, which was helpful in the light-deprived regional park although aided by bright moonlight.

Helicopter loadmaster Sergeant (SGT) Kelvin Arthur was responsible for fast roping the STG team to the location. Doing the training at night with strong gusts made the job extra challenging.

“It was really just the aircraft holding its position over the relatively small area we were trying to get the officers down to and ensuring that they ended up on the road and not over a fence and down a hill.

“We were sitting in the lee of a hill at the time so we were getting moved around by the wind coming over the hill next to us.”

Members of the AOS and STG cross the tarmac to board an NH90 helicopter

Members of the AOS and STG cross the tarmac to board an NH90 helicopter

A No. 3 Squadron Helicopter Loadmaster looks into the Wellington landscape

A No. 3 Squadron Helicopter Loadmaster looks into the Wellington landscape

An NH90 helicopter flies over Wellington City

An NH90 helicopter flies over Wellington City

SGT Arthur and another helicopter loadmaster helped to winch down the police dog and his handler. The handler needed an appropriate harness for the dog and the dog itself needed its own harness attached to the handler.

It was beneficial working alongside the police teams, he said.

“They are really good to work with. They’ve got good drills, they work hard, they do what they are supposed to and that makes our job easier. It’s also great just to be working with a different organisation – they bring their own unique challenges and requests in terms of what they want to receive.”

From a police perspective, the exercise was a success in the challenging conditions with lots of moving parts.

“It was a complex and challenging exercise given the conditions and tested a whole range of things that need to work for the exercise to be a success. It was a very worthwhile activity.”