Handling baby, long hours: RSAF crew ferrying 2,200 Afghan evacuees take duties in stride

An air crew specialist said the experience was a memorable one despite the challenges. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - When she joined the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) about a year ago as an air crew specialist, the 26-year-old did not expect her duties to involve handling infants.

In the course of her two-week deployment to aid the United States Air Force (USAF) in transporting Afghan evacuees from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, she helped a woman who had given birth to a baby just five days before boarding the flight.

"She had given birth via caesarean section and was still experiencing pain. With a five-day-old infant on board, we had to take special care of them," the specialist told the media on Saturday (Sept 11), a day after returning to Singapore.

The specialist was part of a 77-person crew, including air crew, pilots, engineers and security personnel, deployed on the humanitarian mission.

She and other crew members interviewed for this story have not been named due to confidentiality concerns.

Her role on the mission was to act as a chaperone for the evacuees and serve as cabin crew on board the RSAF's A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), a tanker aircraft with the capacity to carry more than 37 tonnes.

The aircraft left Singapore on Aug 26 and returned on Friday after ferrying about 2,200 Afghan evacuees from Qatar to Germany over 10 trips.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had offered the MRTT to help the United States with the evacuation efforts on Aug 23, during US Vice-President Kamala Harris' visit to Singapore.

One of the pilots who flew the aircraft on five of the 10 trips and served as detachment commander on the mission said it was his first time participating in a humanitarian mission.

"Managing the crew's fatigue was my main concern because of the long hours," said the 40-year-old pilot, adding that the crew was split into two teams to manage the high tempo of the missions.

"On one of the missions, for operational reasons, we pushed ourselves to the limit and conducted a 32-hour mission. We flew from Germany to Qatar, picked up the evacuees, took them to Germany and returned to Qatar again, all in one mission."

The usual round trips were also challenging, taking about 21 hours to complete, including a seven-hour flight each way.

The commander of the security team, 37, said each trip involved careful preparations, starting with a security screening process to ensure no dangerous items were brought on board, said the commander of the security team.

The passengers were then escorted onto the plane, which was set up much like a commercial passenger aircraft.

The passengers were then escorted onto the plane, which was set up much like a commercial passenger aircraft. PHOTO: MINDEF

"Some of our tasks included pre-flight security checks like baggage and personnel screening, as well as providing security aboard the aircraft during the flight from Qatar to Germany," he said.

Once the aircraft landed, it would be refuelled and thoroughly cleaned for the next batch of crew and passengers to prevent any Covid-19 transmission.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen thanked the crew for carrying out the mission successfully.

"They flew Singapore's flag high, being the only foreign military supporting the US' evacuation efforts in Qatar. I know that many Singaporeans share my pride and appreciation for their contributions to this successful mission," he said.

The air crew specialist said the experience was a memorable one despite the challenges and she felt honoured to be a part of it.

"I felt satisfied because I knew that every passenger we ferried was being transported to a safe place to have a new start in life," she said.

"This mission also served as a reminder to me that we shouldn't take our nation's safety, peace and security for granted."

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