But as their helicopter took off amid poor weather conditions over the snow-covered landscape of Montenegro with a sick newborn needing urgent medical attention on board, it was clear that their mission would save lives.
“Our participation in the aid relief mission was crucial to the survival of patients needing emergency medical evacuation,” explains Cdr Ledinek, 48. “Without our capability to hoist them out of inaccessible terrain their chances of survival were definitely thin.”
Cdr Ledinek’s team were acting as part of a NATO response to Montenegro’s request for aid following recent devastatingly heavy snow falls. In the country’s northern region, traditional transport routes have been blocked and damaged, leaving hundreds of people stranded without basic amenities. Food and medical supplies being transported along roads have been unable to reach some areas, and power lines have collapsed cutting off heating and electricity and threatening lives.
Ambassador Vesko Garcevic of the Montenegrin Mission to NATO said that the country was very grateful to all nations which provided help. “NATO's immediate reaction saved the lives of people and helped us deliver necessary assistance to those who were in need, which was very well received by the citizens of Montenegro. Furthermore, NATO's action reconfirmed the well-known principle of solidarity shared among Allies and partners and proved NATO's capacity to be of help in such disastrous situations.”
“Under the existing weather conditions which have resulted in transportation difficulties, any means capable to support people in need is useful,” explains Ekaterini Nasika, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Greek Delegation to NATO. The Hellenic Air Force sent a Super Puma helicopter with its 6 crew members to offer ongoing help alongside their Slovenian counterparts.
“Greece has a long history in providing humanitarian assistance within its means and capabilities. Search and rescue operations, fire-fighting and earthquake disaster-related efforts, constitute the main domains where we can, and we do, contribute to the efforts of the suffering state,” explains Nasika, adding that despite the current economic crisis, Greece remains faithful to helping people in need.
The four-day Slovenian mission, which finished on 17 February, helped evacuate 83 people, including one from a house that collapsed from the weight of the snow. They also helped get the two-day old baby and four other urgent patients to the Montenegrin capital Podgorica where they received the appropriate medical attention.
“Some days we flew up to four flights in our Bell B-412EP twin engine helicopter,” saysCdr Ledinek. “Others we were grounded for periods of time due to changeable weather conditions. We worked to evacuate people alongside three members of the SlovenianMountain Rescue team.”
“Our main purpose was to extend help to the local population living in the areas cut off from the rest of the country,” says Cdr Ledinek. “The situation in Montenegro at that time was very bad. All main communication routes were blocked by snow, thus the only access possible was from the air. Parts of the country we were flying to were on average under snow cover as deep as three meters.”
Slovenian Ambassador to Montenegro Vladimir Gasparič adds that the campaign and rapid response reflects the true value of NATO and all that partnership with the Alliance brings. “This is a specific task, a campaign confirming what NATO can do in difficult situations.”
On 17 February, Croatia deployed one helicopter to Montenegro along with two rescue teams. They worked alongside the Montenegrin government forces until 21 February. The following day, two helicopters from the United States deployed in the aid relief mission until February 28th. The heavy snow also affected Albania which, following a similar aid request, received help from Luxembourg.