South Sudan: A Day In The Life Of A Humanitarian Helicopter

This Mi8 helicopter is one of two, based in Kampala, Uganda and funded by ECHO, which are dedicated to enhance emergency response capacities in East Africa. In this photo, the Mi8 has come to support humanitarian response efforts in Jonglei State, South Sudan. WFP/Ahnna Gudmunds

Have you ever hopped on a helicopter to deliver food assistance to South Sudan? We hadn’t either -- But luckily, some of our colleagues in the field have – and they’ve put together a photo diary of a recent mission by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), showing exactly this. On 17 January, this air operation not only brought much needed food assistance to those affected by conflict in Jonglei State, but it also responded to an unexpected emergency call.

From a dirt airstrip in Bor, Jonglei State, an ECHO-funded Mi8 helicopter is loaded up with food assistance. It will make two trips on this day to Likongole, a remote village situated in Pibor county, alternating with a stop in between to Pibor town, the epicentre of the conflict. With over 100,000 people affected by recent attacks in Jonglei State, these locations are home to a displaced population in urgent need of humanitarian support.

Up, up and away -- we’re off to Likongole! Allow us to introduce UNHAS pilots, Captain Alexander Lomakin (left) and Co-pilot Eriks Malahovskis (right).

Taking a look Inside the ECHO Mi8, we see that humanitarian cargo and passengers share the space together.

Once in Likongole, the food items are offloaded and WFP prepares for a distribution on the same day.

The helicopter crew stay on the ground for an additional 15 minutes, which allows humanitarian workers to touch base with the community leaders and get an update on the local situation.

Proceeding towards Pibor town, the field hub for the humanitarian emergency response, they make a quick stop here to drop off two aid workers from a partner organization.

Once back in Bor, the porters are ready to load the helicopter for another rotation of food to Likongole.

Without belongings, many of the people who are returning to Likongole have been walking for days and sometimes weeks without food. Thanks to the food being airlifted in from Bor, WFP is able to provide a 15-day ration of emergency food assistance to all people affected by the attack in Likongole.

After returning to Bor, it is time for the technicians to maintain the helicopter and make sure it is prepared to continue emergency response operations tomorrow.

Around the same time, an aircraft from the U.N. Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) arrives with seven people who have been evacuated after being wounded in an attack in Duk Padiet, a small village near the Nile river.

UNHAS staff on the ground receive a phone call with an urgent request: the ECHO helicopter is needed for a medical evacuation to bring back four additional wounded people. As the helicopter refuels, the pilots swiftly prepare for the mission at hand.

In just a few minutes, the helicopter has already taken off and is on its way to Duk Padiet, aiding civilians wounded by conflict. To see more of the response, please check out this great video showing how we fly food into South Sudan, and this article explaining how WFP is scaling up operations in Jonglei State.

*A special thanks goes to Ahnna in our WFP Juba office for putting together this great photo diary! All above photos credited to WFP/Ahnna Gudmunds