Australian military transport aircraft to stay an extra week in Japan: DM

16:52, March 19, 2011      

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Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith on Saturday announced that military transport aircraft will stay in Japan for an extra week.

Smith said Australian personnel and the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) Boeing C-17A Globemaster aircraft had been providing much needed airlift support to Japan, and he had approved a week's extension of their support to relief efforts in Japan.

"Australia and the United States are the only two countries providing C-17A military airlift assistance internally within Japan in support of the crisis response," he said in a statement released on Saturday.

"Australia is entitled to be proud of the high praise our small team of Australian Defense Force personnel currently working in Japan are receiving."

The RAAF Globemaster departed to Japan shortly after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11. The team has since ferrying relief personnel and supplies into the disaster zone.

Operating in ice and snow conditions, the aircraft flew much needed drinking water into the rescue zone, and also transported personnel and supplies from Okinawa.

Meanwhile, Australia's 72-member Urban Search and Rescue Team on Saturday afternoon will begin winding up its operations in Japan, to get ready to return home.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland praised the rescue team's contributions.

"The team has been searching for survivors in areas in Northern Honshu that have been utterly devastated, tunneling through collapsed buildings and overcoming logistical issues such as fuel shortages and poor communications," McClelland said in a statement released on Saturday.

"The team has also endured extreme weather conditions including temperatures as low as minus 17 degrees on some nights in temporary shelters."

He added that the decision to put an end to the operation is because the earthquake and tsunami response moved from search and rescue into recovery mode.

Rescue teams from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland have already returned home.

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