The Australian Defence Force has commenced a mobilisation of ISR and HADR elements, as the Commonwealth prepares to support the people of Tonga in the wake of the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami on January 15.
An RAAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon departed Amberley on the morning of January 17 to conduct surveillance of the 300km long island chain, including the Tongan capital and main population centre of Nuku’alofa which lies about 65km SSE of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.
An RAAF C-130J is also preparing to depart Amberley with a load of potable water, tarpaulins, medical equipment, and advance personnel. But its departure will depend on the condition of Fua’amoto Airport on the main island of Tongatapu, and on whether a clear path can be flown through the vast ash and dust cloud from the eruption.
According to Google Earth, the airports sits at 30m above sea level so likely wasn’t impacted by the tsunami. But the airport may have been impacted by ash, pumice, and dust, all of which can severely damage aircraft turbines if ingested.
The RAN LHD HMAS Adelaide is also positioning from Sydney to Brisbane where it will take on vehicles, equipment, supplies, and personnel in preparation of an anticipated deployment, but is likely at least a week away from arriving in Tonga.
New Zealand has sent a RNZAF Lockheed P-3K2 Orion to conduct surveillance of the damage, and is preparing to deploy either the HMNZS Canterbury multirole vessel, or a smaller ship.