Press Release – New Zealand Defence Force
It was a proud day for Auckland Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Aaron Benton and his family when he was presented with the Distinguished Service Decoration (DSD) for his role in a difficult Antarctic rescue carried out in September 2010.
Quick to down play his role in the rescue, the experienced Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion instructor pilot was called on to fly to Antarctica to evacuate an American working at McMurdo Station, who had fallen seriously ill and was in need of specialist medical care.
“While it is an honour to receive the award it is important to remember that the success of the casualty evacuation could not have been achieved without the professionalism of a number of people,” said SQNLDR Benton.
“This includes the other crewmembers, aircraft maintainers and engineers and numerous other people in support. The flight itself involved more preparation prior to getting airborne than any other flight I have conducted in my career.”
The Orion left Christchurch to begin the mission on Sunday 12 September, however during the flight south increasingly blizzard like conditions caused the first attempt to be cancelled, and it was another two days before a second attempt could be made.
SQNLDR Benton’s citation reads, “Faced with an outside temperature of minus 47 degree Celsius, he had a number of factors relating to crew safety to consider when operating in such a harsh and unfamiliar environment. Functions such as loading the patient, refuelling, starting, taxiing and take-off all had to be carefully planned and executed, as well as contingencies for aircraft technical issues and emergencies. His planning and attention to detail ensured that the aircraft and crew remained safe at all times, despite operating at the extremes of both human and equipment performance.”
SQNLDR Benton said, “We were operating the aircraft in conditions that we had not experienced before and there were numerous contingencies and ‘what ifs’ that we had to consider. To complete the mission safely and successfully, without any serious personnel or aircraft issues, was fantastic.”
SQNLDR Benton joined the Air Force in 1995 for the excitement of flying and travelling the world, and he has certainly achieved that. “Highlights have been the many places I have travelled, including UK, Sicily, Crete, Middle East, Australia, South East Asia, USA, Canada, Antarctica and numerous Pacific Islands.” He was presented the DSD at a ceremony last week.
In his leisure time the proud father of four supports his sons who all play rugby at the local Kumeu club, and enjoys playing tennis.
When asked if he would recommend to others to join the Air Force SQNLDR Benton’s response is emphatic: “Absolutely, it is very rewarding, interesting and you meet great people from all around the world. I have gained training in a number of different areas, obviously pilot training that is second to none, but also survival, escape and evasion, command and leadership, flight safety, and firearms to name a few.”