17 October 2018
For aircraft captain Flight Lieutenant Dave Natapu, being able to help babies and young children escape the quake-ravaged Indonesian city of Palu with their parents was the most rewarding part of being deployed as part of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) recent humanitarian aid mission.
“I have a five-month-old daughter myself, so it was tough to see mothers carrying their babies or with very young children,” he said. “On the other hand, it made me happy that we could help.”
Helping evacuate the survivors from Palu was a rewarding experience for him and the other members of the 15-member NZDF detachment.
“Knowing many of them had lost their homes and loved ones made getting them to Balikpapan the most rewarding moment in my flying career.”
The Indonesian authorities and locals at Palu and Balikpapan, a port city in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province that served as the hub of multinational air operations to disaster zones, were quick to thank the NZDF personnel for helping, Flight Lieutenant Natapu said.
“We are glad that we were there at the beginning and delivered aid to where it was needed most.”
During their week-long deployment, the NZDF detachment and a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft transported about 70 tonnes of aid and evacuated 160 survivors from Palu.
A highlight for Flight Lieutenant Natapu was the first NZDF aid flight to Palu on 5 October, which coincided with the Indonesian National Armed Forces Day.
“The Indonesian soldiers cheered us as soon as we arrived. They sang their national anthem as we unloaded the aid from the Herc and took our photos.”
The survivors, many of whom had slept outdoors for days, queued to get into the Hercules.
“They were so relieved when they got on our plane. They erupted in cheers and gave a thumbs-up sign before we took off.
“Despite their trying circumstances, they were so disciplined. They shook our hands and were very grateful that we had come to help.”
The scale of the destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami was apparent as they flew into Palu, he said.
“Everyone on the flight deck was shocked to see how bad the destruction was.”
On landing, they noticed that parts of Palu airport’s runway had been damaged and were closed.
Flight Lieutenant Natapu worked for three years as a lawyer, specialising in banking and commercial law, before enlisting in the RNZAF in 2011. He has since deployed on operations in the Middle East, Antarctica and the South Pacific.
“It is a very rewarding job, which, as we have just done in Indonesia, gives us lots of opportunity to do good,” he said.