The first aircraft have landed at Tonga’s Fua’amoto Airport since the explosive eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano and subsequent tsunami on January 15.
As part of the ADF’s Operation Tonga Assist, on January 20 an RAAF C-17 flew from Amberley to Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu loaded with aid supplies including fresh water, shelter materials, hygiene supplies and PPE, communications equipment, and a small skid-steer tractor/sweeper to help clear the runway and ramp area of ash and dust. This was quickly followed by a RNZAF C-130H from Auckland.
The aircraft were welcomed by the Prime Minister of Tonga, Siaosi Sovaleni, and the Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, Rachael Moore. “The C-17A flight today was made possible thanks to the tireless efforts of Tongan authorities who have worked to clear a thick layer of volcanic ash from the runway at Tongatapu Fua’amotu International Airport to enable the planes to land,” a joint 20 January statement from Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton reads.
Fortunately, the eruption appears to have ended for now and the ash cloud has dispersed, so no more ash or dust is expected to fall on the islands.
The C-17A arrived as the RAN’s LHD HMAS Adelaide continued to load supplies, engineering and other vehicles and equipment, amphibious watercraft, three Chinook helicopters, and engineering and medical personnel in Brisbane prior to its departure for Tonga on January 21. The RNZN’s HMNZ Ships Canterbury and Aotearoa departed Auckland for Tonga on January 18.