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Wave Knight’s Wildcat helps Caribbean islanders assess volcano threat

Knightrider lands in St Vincent in a tropical shower
14 September 2021
Naval aviators from RFA Wave Knight have helped rebuild a scientific station on the rim of a Caribbean volcano – five months after it erupted with devastating results.

The crew of Knightrider flew repeated sorties to the top of active La Soufrière volcano to help scientists warn islanders on St Vincent should the mountain threaten lives and livelihoods again.

The Commonwealth island is still recovering from the April 22 eruption – the first major activity in more than 40 years – which displaced more than 15,000 people.

As well as disrupting the lives of thousands of St Vincentians, the eruption also obliterated the seismometer station set up on the volcano’s rim to monitor activity.

Five months later, La Soufrière was deemed sufficiently safe to build a fresh research station.

With her mother ship 20 miles offshore, the Wildcat helicopter flew into the Cumberland Playing Fields cricket pitch, which served as a makeshift helipad just seven miles from the volcanic crater.

From there ‘Knightrider’ flew shuttle runs to deliver engineers and their equipment to the rim – rising more than 4,000 feet over the island – where the scientific instruments were installed.

The helicopter also carried out a survey of the areas affected by the April eruption, taking the island’s Director of National Emergency Management Organisation, Michelle Forbes, to see the impact of the eruption on the landscape and communities.

It was very rewarding to able to help the engineers re-build such an important piece of equipment.

Wildcat Observer Lieutenant Connor Osborne

The reconnaissance flight confirmed that there’s been little change to the volcano since the end of April, while activity is waning – but La Soufrière continues to pose a danger.

High Commissioner Steve Moore said the helicopter’s assistance had been “invaluable” in helping authorities’ understanding of the disaster.

“It was very rewarding to able to help the engineers re-build such an important piece of equipment. I’m returning to the UK to start training as a principal warfare officer so it was a privilege to have my last Wildcat flight in such spectacular surroundings,” said Lieutenant Connor Osborne, Knightrider’s Observer – navigator/sensors and weapons specialist.

He and his colleagues from 213 Flight are now back in the UK, while 210 Flight have flown out from the Wildcat’s parent 815 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton to take over Knightrider for the remainder of the year.

Wave Knight remains on standby to respond to natural disasters in the Caribbean until the end of the annual hurricane season.

She’s already delivered aid to St Vincent in the wake of the volcanic eruption and supported international relief efforts in Haiti following last month’s powerful earthquake.

The ship – which has a specialist disaster relief team of commando engineers embarked – is about to conduct an emergency exercise with authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

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