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PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - USS Sampson (DDG 102) and two embarked MH-60R helicopters from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 73 concluded relief effort support to the residents of Kaikoura, New Zealand, Nov. 19.
Sampson and the embarked helicopters directly supported the Government of New Zealand onsite at Kaikoura from Nov. 17-19. Over the two days the helicopters completed 14 flights lifting 11,000 lbs of equipment and supplies from HMNZS Canberra to the shore and also took the Mayor of Kaikoura on a visual inspection tour of the surrounding area. The crew of Sampson supported transporting New Zealand citizens from Kaikoura to HMNZS Canterbury via the Sampson’s rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and 26 Sailors went ashore and assisted in establishing a food distribution center, assisting in the cleanup efforts, and engaging with the local residents to assess their needs.
"Words cannot express the enthusiasm that the crew and I have about being here helping those affected by the earthquake, while representing the United States. Operating in close concert with our counterparts in the Royal New Zealand Navy signifies the deepening bilateral partnership we have with them and with the Government of New Zealand," said Cmdr. Tim LaBenz, Sampson's commanding officer. "It's a privilege to assist where needed, and I must say we are glad to being doing our part in some small way to alleviate any kind of suffering happening ashore."
As operations supported by Sampson began to wind down on Nov. 19 the ship was visited by New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee as he reviewed the relief efforts and all of the supporting international ships supporting.
“[As] the first ship in 30 years or more to from the U.S. to visit New Zealand and then respond as you have to a reasonably big natural disaster here on the South Island is just unbelievably appreciated by New Zealanders,” Brownlee said. “You cannot underestimate how much each of you has become an ambassador for the friendly relationship between New Zealand and the United States.”
As part of the earthquake response naval task group, Sampson continued into Wellington Harbor for VIP visits the following morning along with the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Kaha, tanker HMNZS Endeavour, Australian ship HMAS Darwin and Canadian ship HMCS Vancouver. After the brief stop in Wellington, the task group continued on to Auckland, New Zealand.