SAF team home after relief mission in quake-hit Indonesia

VIDEO: MINDEF
Above: Flight engineer Brian Rezel says he choked up when an elderly woman thanked him. Left: Captain Elson Wong being welcomed back by his wife, Ms Lim Yi Jie, 28, with their six-week-old baby, Amellia, at Paya Lebar Air Base. Below: Twenty-six pers
Captain Elson Wong being welcomed back by his wife, Ms Lim Yi Jie, 28, with their six-week-old baby, Amellia, at Paya Lebar Air Base.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Above: Flight engineer Brian Rezel says he choked up when an elderly woman thanked him. Left: Captain Elson Wong being welcomed back by his wife, Ms Lim Yi Jie, 28, with their six-week-old baby, Amellia, at Paya Lebar Air Base. Below: Twenty-six pers
Flight engineer Brian Rezel says he choked up when an elderly woman thanked him.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Above: Flight engineer Brian Rezel says he choked up when an elderly woman thanked him. Left: Captain Elson Wong being welcomed back by his wife, Ms Lim Yi Jie, 28, with their six-week-old baby, Amellia, at Paya Lebar Air Base. Below: Twenty-six pers
Twenty-six personnel returned to Singapore yesterday on a C-130 aircraft. The others came back on Oct 17 on another C-130.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Homecoming ceremony for last 26 of 46 personnel sent to help Sulawesi earlier this month

After nearly a month away from his family, Captain Elson Wong, a flight navigator, headed straight for his wife and baby daughter at Paya Lebar Air Base yesterday.

His face beaming as he held six-week-old Amellia in his arms, the proud father said: "Her face has definitely changed. She's grown so big. It's so touching to see her again."

Capt Wong, 30, was in a team sent on a disaster relief mission to Indonesia by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on Oct 2.

A total of 46 personnel were involved in the mission.

Just days earlier, on Sept 28, a magnitude-7.4 earthquake and tsunami struck Palu in Central Sulawesi, leaving more than 2,000 people dead.

A Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 aircraft with 26 personnel, including Capt Wong, returned yesterday. The others came back on Oct 17 on another C-130.

The returning personnel were received by Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong and Chief of Air Force Mervyn Tan at a homecoming ceremony at the airbase yesterday.

 Twenty-six pers
Captain Elson Wong being welcomed back by his wife, Ms Lim Yi Jie, 28, with their six-week-old baby, Amellia, at Paya Lebar Air Base. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

The two RSAF C-130 aircraft undertook more than 90 flights, evacuating close to 800 displaced people from affected areas and delivering about 250 tonnes of supplies such as tents, meal rations and medical equipment.

The relief package donated by SAF was worth about $240,000.

Flight engineer Brian Rezel, 57, is a humanitarian mission veteran. He has taken part in at least eight such missions since 2000, including those following the Aceh tsunami in 2004 and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

 Twenty-six pers
Flight engineer Brian Rezel says he choked up when an elderly woman thanked him. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

But Military Expert 4 Rezel was visibly emotional as he recalled how grateful an elderly local woman was.

"She approached me, held my hand and said terima kasih (thank you)... I choked up," he said, adding that such gestures of appreciation motivated the otherwise tired crew members.

  • 90

  • Approximate number of flights the two RSAF C-130 aircraft undertook.

  • 800

    Approximate number of displaced people evacuated from affected areas.

  • 250

    Approximate number of tonnes of supplies such as tents, meal rations and medical equipment delivered.

The mission to Indonesia was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Oh Chun Keong, 39, who graduated from the Indonesian Air Force Command and Staff College in 2015. He was leading a humanitarian mission for the first time.

LTC Oh said the mission was intensive, with up to seven flights a day, and the team had to adapt to some unfamiliar practices, such as a different plane-loading process.

"But TNI had all the systems and processes in place, which made it easy for foreign teams to settle in," he said, referring to the Indonesian Armed Forces.

 
 

He also felt reassured that the situation had improved when the team left, as some local people were already heading back to the affected areas in Palu.

"While there are still efforts required to reconstruct Palu, I'm quite confident that the Indonesians will be able to do the job."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline 'SAF team home after relief mission in quake-hit Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe