The leadership, skills and professionalism of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel involved in the Whakaari White Island response have been acknowledged by the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force through the announcement of a number of awards.
Air Marshal Kevin Short said in recognition of the courage and determination recognised today, through Her Majesty the Queen’s awarding of a Distinguished Service Decoration to Serviceman M for his role in leading the recovery teams to retrieve victims from the Whakaari White Island volcanic eruption, he was pleased to also recognise others involved in the response.
From specialist doctors to helicopter pilots, Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) drivers to Commanding Officers, and everything in between, the NZDF had a wide-ranging response of skills to draw from when the need arose following the Whakaari White Island volcanic eruption on 9 December 2019, which claimed the lives of 22 people and seriously injured 25.
“The actions of those members of the New Zealand Defence Force involved with the victim recovery operation showed great courage and determination to retrieve those that perished on the island,” he said.
The New Zealand Defence Force deployed personnel from the Royal New Zealand Navy, Royal New Zealand Air Force and New Zealand Army to respond alongside other agencies to the emergency situation, and were successfully able to reunite the remains of six victims with their families.
Nine members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron (EOD) were deployed on the volcano four days after the eruption to recover the victims that had succumbed to the deadly effects of the initial eruption.
Air Marshal Short said they each displayed courage and determination as they faced extreme conditions whilst wearing cumbersome protective equipment that caused them to fatigue quickly.
“Their efforts played a critical role in the success of the operation.”
These members have been awarded seven Defence Meritorious Service Medals and two CDF Commendations. Additionally, one member of the EOD Squadron who supported those who deployed on the volcano has been awarded an NZDF Commendation.
Air Marshal Short said he was pleased to announce the awards of the Defence Meritorious Service Medal, Chief of Defence Force Commendation and New Zealand Defence Force Commendation to those members of the New Zealand Defence Force who contributed to the success of the victim recovery operation.
The recipients are:
Recipient of the Defence Meritorious Service Medal:
FLTLT Hamish Reichardt
Recipients of a Chief of Defence Force Commendation:
SGT Phillip Delaney
FLTLT Loic Ifrah
SGT Jennifer Hart
LSCS Joesph Campbell
LSCS Reyne Hepi
LHSO Stephen Lofthouse
LTCDR Timothy Hall
Recipients of a New Zealand Defence Force Commendation:
DR Sophie Walker
SQNLDR Christopher Ross
LTCOL Charmaine Tate