GROOTFONTEIN – The three Namibian Air Force helicopters that left for Zimbabwe on a humanitarian relief mission 10 days ago returned home safely on Thursday last week.
The helicopters were despatched following a formal request by the Zimbabwean government to assist the flood-affected communities in the Tokwe-Mukori Basin of Masvingo Province. Two of the three helicopters that were dispatched on February 11, 2014 touched down at Grootfontein air base at exactly 14h25, while the third was left on standby at Mpacha airport in the Zambezi Region.
The crews flew straight from Namibia to the area of disaster, flying 38.6 hours and they managed to evacuate 600 locals to safety as well as airlift 56 tons of goods and belongings. The operation was conducted over nine days and the crews reported that they did not meet any problem beyond their capabilities.
The crews were welcomed home by Vice-Marshal Martin Pinehas the Namibian Air Force Commander who thanked the group commander Captain Abed Hihepo for a “job well done”.
“I would also like to thank each and every member of the air force who contributed to the success of this mission. The mission’s success is a reflection of the Namibian Air Force’s preparedness to respond to eventualities such as disasters within Namibia and beyond,” said Pinehas.
He said the SADC community previously assisted Namibia during ordeals such as droughts and floods. “The air force of Zimbabwe is one of the few that deployed its helicopters to assist our flood-affected communities in the Zambezi Region during the floods of 2006. Our response to their request should not be seen as payback but rather a strengthening of cooperation amongst the SADCcCommunity and as protocol of mutual assistance in the region,” added Pinehas.
“The only challenge was that there was only one platform – we had to evacuate people fast because the village was being overwhelmed by water. The mission was scheduled to last for only five days but when we saw the situation on the ground we decided on an additional two days,” said Hihepo. The crew of 13 comprised twelve men and one woman Susana Amupolo who is also a mother of three.
According to the 35-year-old Amupolo the job was hard but she rose to the challenge and urged other women to join the Namibian Air Force. “I am very proud to have been the only woman in the crew, the job is not especially easy because one is male or female and I want to reassure women out there that they too can do it,” grinned a proud Amupolo.
When asked why the group was mostly comprised of men, the 15-year air force veteran Hihepo told New Era that the air force knows that it has to be gender sensitive but the trip was an emergency and mostly men were available at the time. “During an emergency we do not look at balancing gender,” added Hihepo.
By John Travolter Matali