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Navy Plane from Hawaii Helping New Zealand Recover from Earthquake

Shane Lewis, with the Golden Swordsmen of Patrol Squadron (VP) 47, examines a chart of New Zealand with an airman from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. (U.S. Navy photo/Lt. j.g Kyle Burdick)
Shane Lewis, with the Golden Swordsmen of Patrol Squadron (VP) 47, examines a chart of New Zealand with an airman from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. (U.S. Navy photo/Lt. j.g Kyle Burdick)

A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion aircraft out of Hawaii is assisting with a survey of ground damage in New Zealand after an earthquake hit the South Island.

BBC News said two people were killed in the 7.8-magnitude quake near Christchurch Monday, blocking roads and causing some building damage.

The air crew with the Golden Swordsmen of Patrol Squadron 47 accompanied by two Royal New Zealand Air Force airmen took off from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base in Whenuapai today on a five-hour mission to assess the area surrounding Kaikoura, the U.S. Navy said.

"We are very glad to be able to render assistance during this disaster," Cmdr. Jim Imlah, executive officer of VP-47, said in a release. "Both our aircrew and our aircraft maintainers understand the urgency of these missions and are working around the clock to provide maritime patrol and humanitarian support to the people of New Zealand."

The crew was able to identify impassable roads covered in debris. Additionally, bridges were assessed that were cracked and buckling due to damage by the earthquake.

The P-3C Orion was participating in Exercise Mahi Tangaroa as part of the New Zealand International Naval Review when the earthquake occurred.

The squadron left Kaneohe Bay on Sept. 20 on its last deployment out of Hawaii. VP-47 is the second of three Hawaii squadrons to make the move to Whidbey Island, Wash. following deployment for transition to newer P-8A Poseidon jets.

The Navy said in September that aircraft and personnel deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, and Comalapa, El Salvador.

The P-3C Orion is a four engine, turboprop maritime patrol aircraft, with the endurance and ability to conduct wide-area maritime search operations, the Navy said.

The Navy said the destroyer USS Sampson with two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters is on its way to Kaikoura to support disaster relief efforts.

The Sampson recently conducted an at-sea exercise with HMNZS Endeavour, a Royal New Zealand Navy fleet replenishment oiler.

"American presence matters, as shown yet again today," Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said in a release. "Our prayers go out to our friends in New Zealand as they deal with another devastating earthquake on the South Island."

The Navy said Sampson was transiting the Western Pacific en route to Auckland to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy's International Naval Review commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Sampson's visit to New Zealand is the first in more than 30 years for a U.S. Navy ship following a disagreement over New Zealand's anti-nuclear rules, which led to a port visit impasse.

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