New Caledonia unrest: Second Mercy Flight leaves Noumea via Brisbane with more Kiwis on board

A second batch of 49 Kiwis are being evacuated this afternoon from New Caledonia via Brisbane with the help of French forces, after the initial mercy flight landed in Auckland last night.

A stranded New Zealander told Newstalk ZB that approximately 100 Kiwis left Chateau Royale and headed to Magenta Airport on the outskirts of the city center to then be transported by French security personnel to La Tontauta International Airport.

“We will then take a French military flight to Brisbane along with 100 Australians.

“From there the NZDF will operate the Boeing 757 which will return to Auckland at approximately 2.30am tomorrow morning.”

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They also said no clearance had been given for an NZDF or ADF Hercules to land because French President Emmanuel Macron would arrive at around 1.30pm.

“The area around all the hotels and resorts is filled with gendarmes and French GIGN special forces.”

Another New Zealander told Herald that Chateau Royale is the starting point for evacuations from New Zealand.

Alex Smeele said the group of New Zealanders were waiting to be escorted to La Magenta airport, where they would then be taken to La Tontouta airport.

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“From there, we will take a larger French military plane (similar to a commercial airliner) to Brisbane,” he said.

“Then they are working to get a larger NZDF aircraft there, like a Poseidon or a 757-2k2, to take us home from there.

“I figure if all of that goes ahead, we’ll be home around 2 a.m.”

Today’s mercy flight from New Caledonia comes after almost 50 high-priority New Zealanders arrived at Auckland Airport around 10pm last night in rainy and foggy conditions.

Among them were Mike and Christine Reilly from Kerikeri, who said they were grateful to be back in New Zealand after eight “scary” days.

They had arrived in Noumea without prior notice, there were riots. “Air New Zealand dropped us right in the middle,” Mike Reilly said. “So as soon as we got off the plane, the shot went off and they didn’t say anything… It was very, very scary going from the airport to the hotel.”

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said: “A New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) C-130 took off from New Caledonia at 6.45pm yesterday (Tuesday, May 21) to begin to bring home New Zealanders who have been stranded in New Zealand. Caledonia since violent protests broke out last week.”

“The flight was carrying 48 passengers with the most urgent needs from Noumea to Auckland. New Zealand consular staff in Noumea will continue to prioritize flight passengers on an as-needed basis.

“MFAT is working with France and Australia on another flight today, to bring another group back to New Zealand via Brisbane, using French and New Zealand aircraft.

“MFAT and NZDF staff are still working on logistical arrangements for today’s flight and subsequent flights.

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A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ office said they are working hard with France and Australia to ensure they can operate more assisted departure flights in the coming days and with the aim of allowing anyone who wants to return to New Zealand in a Next future.

“Flight configuration and routes may change; it is a daily logistical exercise with the French and Australians.”

‘We did everything we could to get them out’ – Peters

There will be more mercy flights throughout the rest of this week, Peters said. He could not say how many flights would be made and said: “We’ll see who wants to come.”

Peters said there was “a lot of hard work by the Foreign Affairs team” and others involved in starting the mission to bring the Kiwis home.

He said he was “grateful” for the help of French authorities, who also believed they could ensure safe passage to the airport for the first group of 50 New Zealanders to leave the island.

“The number one goal here is to have New Zealanders in a dangerous situation and our job was to make sure we did everything we could to get them out,” Peters said.

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“And I’m sure we can do it.”

An NZDF C-130 Hercules waits on the runway at Noumea to evacuate Kiwis trapped in New Caledonia.  Photo / NZDF
An NZDF C-130 Hercules waits on the runway at Noumea to evacuate Kiwis trapped in New Caledonia. Photo / NZDF

Peters said the list of New Zealanders wanting help in Noumea was “more than 300”.

Peters previously said New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a difficult few days and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the Government.

“We want to acknowledge the support of the relevant authorities, both in Paris and Noumea, in facilitating this flight,” he said.

“The situation in New Caledonia remains dynamic and New Zealand officials continue to work with their French counterparts and other partners, especially Australia, to understand what is needed to ensure the safety of our people there.”