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29 June 2007

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A number of Army and Royal Air Force personnel along with an RAF Chinook heavy lift helicopter have been helping the emergency services with the flood relief effort in the north of England.

In Bentley, just north of Doncaster, the Environment Agency identified a weak point on the River Don. An 18 Squadron Chinook helicopter, from RAF Odiham in Hampshire, was immediately called in to help lift around 150 tonnes of aggregate near the village of Almholme in a bid to reinforce and support the banks of the River Don.

Throughout the evening of Wednesday 27 June 2007 the helicopter made several trips, carrying the bags as an under-slung load. They continued with the lifting this morning, Thursday 28 June 2007.

Flight Lieutenant Stu Gerrard, 28, Officer Commanding the Mobile Air Operations team at RAF Benson, has been helping to coordinate the RAF assistance in Doncaster:

18 Sqn Chinook help with the flood relief"We've been supporting the Environment Agency's operation," explained Flt Lt Gerrard. "What we're doing is lifting around 150 bags of aggregate to try and reinforce the river and prevent it from overflowing.

"We've been working with numerous different organisations, including the police and the fire service. We've taken the lead on how to get the bags where they need to get to. The danger of lifting these loads all makes for a challenging and tricky operation.

"This is unique in terms of the specific role we're carrying out here but in terms of flying and preparing loads, it's what we train for. It's more the equipment we're using and the multi agency working that is different to what we're used to. But it is good to know our unique skills are being used."

This week's floods, which were most severe in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the Midlands, have already claimed four lives. On Monday 25 June 2007 RAF Search and Rescue helicopters worked through the evening to rescue more than 100 people stranded in Hull and Sheffield.

Flt Lt Gerrard has followed the events of the last few days with interest, particularly the assistance provided by his RAF search and rescue colleagues:

"We had no idea we would get called in," he said. "I obviously knew that if there was a real need then we might get called upon to help because we hold a very short notice standby to do this sort of thing, 365 days a year, so we are always available if needed."

Sergeant Paul Waterhouse, from 18 Squadron at RAF Odiham, has been helping to liaise with the numerous agencies involved in the flood relief effort to make it all possible:

"Everything has gone very smoothly so far," he said. "It's been diffcult getting everything together, the logistics side of it in particular. but it's great for us to be involved and it's good for the civilian population that we can carry out this role when required."

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