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'Get them home safe': Peters says NZDF Hercules en route to Kiwis in New Caledonia

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 May 2024, 12:19pm
A C-130 Hercules took off from Auckland Whenuapai Airbase heading to New Caledonia to rescue stranded Kiwis.
A C-130 Hercules took off from Auckland Whenuapai Airbase heading to New Caledonia to rescue stranded Kiwis.

'Get them home safe': Peters says NZDF Hercules en route to Kiwis in New Caledonia

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 May 2024, 12:19pm

As an New Zealand Defence Force plane heads to Noumea in the first of several mercy dashes to bring Kiwis back from the riot-torn holiday destination, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has spoken of the “situation of danger” they unwittingly found themselves in.

The flight departed Whenuapai Air Base in Auckland on its way to New Caledonia - the first of a series of proposed flights to begin bringing home New Zealanders stranded since riots broke out a week ago - around 1pm.

Peters said other flights would be “rolled out” throughout the rest of this week.

When asked how many NZDF flights would be put on, Peters said “we will see who wants to come”, before saying other countries were also asking for help in getting their citizens out.

Peters would not reveal what those countries were.

He said there had been “a lot of hard work from the Foreign Affairs team” and others involved in starting the mission to get Kiwis home.

He said he was “grateful” for the help from French authorities, who also believed they could ensure a safe passage to the airport for the 50-strong first lot of New Zealanders to leave the island.

“The number one objective here is you have New Zealanders in a situation of danger and our job was to ensure we did our utmost to get them out,” Peters said.

“And I am confident we can do that”.

Peters said the list of New Zealanders who wanted help in Noumea was “300-plus”.

Australia’s first flight into the country to get some of its citizens out arrived shortly before 4pm.

In a social media post, Peters reinforced “the safety of wellbeing of trapped Kiwis” was “our number one priority”.

Peters earlier said New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the Government.

”We want to acknowledge the support of relevant authorities, both in Paris and Noumea, in facilitating this flight,” he said.

”The situation in New Caledonia remains dynamic, and New Zealand officials are continuing to work with French counterparts and other partners, especially Australia, to understand what is needed to ensure the safety of our people there.”

Stranded passenger Mike Lightfoot had some contact with MFAT this morning and was told a plan was in place and that they were gathering priority passengers.

“It’s really important that we see the people that need to get out of here, the people with health issues, pregnant people, those are the priorities who need to get out of here,” he said.

“We would rather anyone who needs to get home, gets home first.”

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon – speaking shortly after the flight’s departure from Auckland – said it was “good news” the plane was on its way.

The trip home would include 50 “of our most higher priority” New Zealander’s home.

There had been a lot of dialogue between New Zealand and French authorities over the past 48 hours, with the main issue surrounding “confidence on the ground” that is was “safe and secure” to land and start the evac, as well as the earlier travel to the airport.

“We have been waiting for French authorities to say it is safe and secure to do so, and they have given us those assurances,” Luxon said.

Today’s flight will carry about 50 passengers with the most pressing needs from Noumea to Auckland. Passengers for subsequent flights will be prioritised by consular staff.

A man stands in front of a burnt car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo / AP
A man stands in front of a burnt car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo / AP

Peters and his Australian counterpart Penny Wong met French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné late last night to re-emphasise that both countries shared the urgent need to evacuate their citizens from the island.

Earlier today, Luxon said on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast that Peters has been doing fantastic work behind the scenes to try to speed up the process.

“He has been pushing the French system in Noumea as well as in Paris.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong tweeted: “New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters and I spoke with our French counterpart, Minister Séjourné, to convey our condolences, express our gratitude for French efforts to restore calm and reiterate our request for access.”

Stranded New Zealander Mike Lightfoot told Newstalk ZB he had been contacted by MFAT this morning saying a plan was in place and priority passengers were being gathered.

“It’s really important that we see the people that need to get out of here, the people with health issues, pregnant people – those are the priorities who need to get out of here,” he said.

“We would rather anyone who needs to get home gets home first.

“We hope to be home by the end of the week if all goes to plan.”

Air New Zealand confirmed last night that all flights remain suspended, with its next scheduled service not being until Saturday. The airport at Noumea remains closed to commercial flights.

Captain David Morgan, Air New Zealand’s chief operational integrity and safety officer, said flights would recommence only “when we can be assured that the airport is safe and secure and that there is a safe route for our ground staff and customers to reach the airport”.

“At the moment, we are unable to advise when we will have this assurance.

“Any customers with forward bookings are being offered flexibility or to defer travel but putting flights into credit and we will keep posting any updates on our travel alerts page on our website.”

New Caledonia has been rocked by violence during the past week after protests broke out in reaction to the French Government’s plans to adjust voting eligibility in local elections.

A C-130 Hercules took off from Auckland Whenuapai Airbase heading to New Caledonia to rescue stranded Kiwis. Photo / NZH
A C-130 Hercules took off from Auckland Whenuapai Airbase heading to New Caledonia to rescue stranded Kiwis. Photo / NZH

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