Members of the QFRS Urban Search and Rescue task force board a C17-Globemaster at RAAF Base Amberley, bound for NZ.
Members of the QFRS Urban Search and Rescue task force board a C17-Globemaster at RAAF Base Amberley, bound for NZ. Rob Williams

Rescuers head for NZ

A TEAM of 72 search and rescue experts from Queensland set off from Ipswich yesterday to help New Zealand officials recover survivors from the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch.

Comprising Queensland Fire and Rescue Service personnel, including three from the Ipswich region, the team flew from RAAF Base Amberley about 10.30am.

The Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) taskforce will help locate the 300 people reported missing, possibly trapped in the flattened buildings in Christchurch's CBD.

Flying off in an Air Force C17 Globemaster strategic air-lifter, the USAR team are on a 10-day deployment but will stay longer if they are required.

It comes on the back of a busy few months for the highly trained outfit, who have been on the ground in central Queensland and the south-east of the state for the recent flooding disasters.

Many have only just returned from North Queensland following Cyclone Yasi.

But as they watched dramatic scenes from Christchurch beamed lived to a TV at RAAF Base Amberley before departure, taskforce members said they were ready to help.

Ipswich QFRS station officer and USAR member Phil Paff said the busy start to the year meant they were ready to hit the ground running in New Zealand.

"A lot of those jitters you can get are gone. They are well and truly battle-fit, if you want to put a word to it," Mr Paff said.

Despite the huge recent workload, he said they were keen to do whatever they could in Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region.

"I've probably had three-day stints at home here and there, so the family is starting to wonder what I look like," he said.

"It's been one job to the next."

Scott Beasley, who is a USAR team member and the south-east region co-ordinator for technical rescue in the QFRS, said they will start doing searches as soon as they arrive.

"We're going to be working 24 hours a day, rotating in 12-hour shifts, working as hard as we possibly can," he said.

The USAR team, equipped with three sniffer dogs, drills and sonar devices, is comprised of technical rescue officers and six paramedics.

RAAF Base Amberley's Number 36 Squadron, which operates the C-17 Globemasters, loaded 22 tonnes of cargo onto the aircraft.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the highly-trained team would confront some terrible scenes.

Taskforce leader Chief Supt John Cawcutt said it was a race against the clock to reach people trapped in the rubble.



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