The Grand Master's Award

Awarded for an act of valour or gallantry, at the discretion of the Grand Master.
(previously the Award for Gallantry and the Grand Master's Commendation. Amended Terms of Reference 2019)

2021 awarded to:  The Crew of NZ3301 - Flt Lt Hamish Reichardt, Flt Lt Loic Ifrah, Sgt Jennifer Hart and Sgt Philip Delaney

Crew of NZ3301 Grand Masters AwardOn 9 December 2019 White Island erupted while up to 50 tourists were visiting the island, killing 22 people. On 13 December, Flight Lieutenant Reichardt and his NH90 crew were tasked in support of the Police-led body recovery operation.

The weather conditions were not favourable, with a westerly wind holding the main gas and steam cloud within the main crater, creating a cloud base of around 600 feet. Every three to five minutes there was a gas explosion, which would envelope most of the main crater area making flight dangerous. Despite these risks, and the known possibility of encountering poisonous and corrosive gases for which no PPE was available, Flt Lt Reichardt and his crew volunteered to undertake the recovery mission. In doing so, they developed a plan to operate within the crater in cycles, moving clear when personal irritation became significant, the effects of the gas were noticeable, or the gas cloud forced them from the crater.

Once on station, Flt Lt Reichardt’s crew was initially tasked with conducting a low-level search for two bodies which had not been located during the planning phase. This was a particularly challenging regime of flight, with a heavy aircraft, unfavourable wind, and hazardous conditions. The aircraft had to be manoeuvred low enough for the crew to see bodies obscured by debris, without stirring up the ash and contaminating the aircraft and crew, while also maintaining viable escape options in the event of an aircraft emergency. Flt Lt Reichardt also had to manage the flight path to avoid hindering the ground teams with blowing debris. This all required exceptional crew coordination, managed by the aircraft captain.

By this stage in the operation, the ground teams had located and were preparing bodies for extraction. It became evident that relocating one of the bodies to the main group would not be achievable. Flt Lt Reichardt determined that a winch extraction of this body, while outside the original plan, was achievable, reducing the risk to the ground party. As the crew recovered the first body with the aircraft winch, a gas cloud forced them to drift away from the extraction point towards clear air, creating an unwanted oscillation. The aircraft was slowed to prevent the swing from developing, however extended the time the crew were exposed to the poison gas cloud. Once clear of the cloud, the body was raised to the height of the cabin door and held outside the cabin by the Loadmaster during the long, slow flight to HMNZS Wellington. The crew then returned to lift the rest of the bodies in an underslung net and transfer them to the deck of HMNZS Wellington. The load pickup was more difficult than the winch, with the location being closer to the main steam cloud boundary. With a window only lasting minutes to uplift the remaining bodies, Flt Lt Reichardt flew a very efficient approach, co-ordinating his crew such that the strop arrived at the ground team just as the aircraft terminated in a hover overhead. The load was heavy, with Flt Lt Reichardt using all of the available aircraft power at times, and his skill as a pilot was tested in a high-pressure situation to transition away from the main crater. The load did not initially fly well, and for fear of losing it, Flt Lt Reichardt adapted the aircraft flight path to take it towards the nearby jetty. On advice from the Helicopter Loadmaster the underslung net was set down for a brief moment, which allowed it to redistribute the load. The bodies were all then transferred to the small flight deck of HMNZS Wellington.

This was a task of national significance, and the pressure on the entire recovery operation to provide closure for the victims’ families and the wider New Zealand public was immense. While under significant pressure and scrutiny throughout the recovery operation, Flt Lt Reichardt and his crew consistently displayed sound judgement and flexibility, exceptional crew coordination and pure flying skills of the highest standards. Noting the significant and unpredictable risks involved, the crew also demonstrated exceptional courage in the conduct of this operation.  In recognition of their gallantry displayed in the course of this recovery operation, the crew members of ‘NZ3301’ are recipients of the Grand Master’s Award.

Previous Winners:

... of The Award for Gallantry

2008  Basra City IRT Crew - 28 (AC) Sqn RAF

2009 - 2010  not awarded

2011  Capt Michael Nerandzic (postumously)

2012  Crew of Rescue 195, 103 SAR Sqn RCAF and the SAR Technicians from Rescue 323, 424 Sqn RCAF

2013  not awarded

2014  Sqn Ldr Steven Deyes, Flt Lt Andrew Smith, Flt Sgt Daniel Baxter, Sgt Jonathan Frank of 27 Sqn RAF

2015  Sgt Daniel Allanson QGM

... of the Grand Master's Commendation

1982/83  Capt Drennen AAC

1984-1986  not awarded

1986/87  Len R Carolan Esq - Sec. Australian Region

1988-1989  not awarded

1989/90  Darrol Stinton Esq

1991  not awarded

1991/92  awarded twice:
      28 (AC) Sqn RAF
      Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force

1992/93  Professor Helen Muir

1993/94  The Crew of S61-A Helicopter (Royal Malaysian)

1995  not awarded

1995/96  The Red Arrows Winter Tour

1996/97  Frank Wootton Esq

1997/98  Maj N O'Brien

1998/99  Willam G Scull

1999/2000 awarded twice:
       Sqn Ldr Frederick Da Costa RAF
       Sqn Ldr Paul Day RAF

2000/01  7 Sqn RAF - Chinook Operations in Sierra Leone

2001/02  Sqn Ldr Richard Phillips RAF

2002/03  Peter Charles Tait

2003/04  Flt Lt Jonathan Paul Michael Adamson RAF

2004/05  Sqn Ldr John Hector Francis McNeill-Matthews RAF

2005/06  202 Sqn RAF

2006/07  1 (F) Sqn RAF

2007/08  Royal Air Force Odiham Chinook Force

2008/09  The Crew of "Blackcat 22"

2009/10  Flt Lt Ian Fortune DFC

2010/11 awarded twice:
      Captain Mathew Noble-Clarke AAC
      51 Sqn RAF

2011/12  Roger Bailey MRAeS MSETP

2013  not awarded

2013/14  Flt Lt Timothy Eddy RAF

2014/15  1 Regt AAC

2016 awarded twice:
      Commando Helicopter Force
      Flt Lt Michael Jones RAF

2017  Cdr Bertie W Vigrass OBE VRD RNR

2018  Lt Amy Gilmore RN and CPO Ian Toms - 216 Flight 815 NAS

2019 - 2020  not awarded

The Grand Master's Award

2021  Crew of NZ3301