The courage and determination of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel involved in the recovery of victims from the Whakaari/White Island disaster has been recognised with a number of awards.
It comes after the Queen’s Birthday Honours today awarded a Distinguished Service Decoration to Serviceman M for his role in leading the recovery teams to retrieve victims from the disaster on December 9, 2019 which killed 22 people and injured 25 others.
The serviceman has not been named for security reasons.
He planned and led the effort to retrieve six victims in the extreme conditions, also determining that the bodies of two victim, Hayden Marshall Inman and 17-year-old Australian Winona Langford, could not be found before his team left the island.
“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,” Defence Force chief Air Marshal Kevin Short said today in a statement.
The NZDF 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 also deployed on the volcano four days after the eruption.
The NZDF members involved were awarded seven Defence Meritorious Service Medals and two CDF Commendations, announced by Short. One member of the EOD Squadron who supported those who deployed on the volcano has been awarded an NZDF Commendation.
He 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.”
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 Joseph Campbell
Lscs Reyne Hepi
Lhso Stephen Lofthouse
Ltcdr Timothy Hall
Recipients of a New Zealand Defence Force Commendation:
Dr Sophie Walker
Sqn ldr Christopher Ross
Lt col Charmaine Tate