Family, friends and colleagues of the 21 returning rescuers welcomed them home warmly with hugs and excited chatter at Changi Airport on the evening of 6 March 2011.
The group of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers was the first batch of the original 55-member Operation (Ops) Lionheart team to return from quake hit Christchurch, New Zealand.
New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore, His Excellency Mr Peter Hamilton and SCDF Commissioner Peter Lim were at the airport to welcome them too.
Mr Hamilton said, “Singapore's response to the emergency was fantastic. I think all Singaporeans can be proud that they (SCDF officers) responded so quickly and were on the scene very promptly to assist New Zealanders with the immediate relief effort.”
The SCDF team was one of the first to arrive in Christchurch the day after the 6.3-magnitude quake struck the city on 22 February.
The rescue team had so far combed 44 quake devastated sites.
At least 166 people have been confirmed dead from the disaster.
Among the officers that returned to Singapore was Major (MAJ) Tan Loo Ping, a Search Platoon Commander with SCDF’s elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART).
“Tall buildings had collapsed, the roads had crumbled and structures had given way,” said MAJ Tan recalling the disaster scene.
He said the Ops Lionheart team linked up with the local authorities on arrival in the city and worked with the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Command, which is the overall coordinating centre for all international rescue teams.
USAR assigned the team to work in different sectors.
MAJ Tan had also been deployed on disaster relief missions to Sichuan, China following the earthquake in 2008 and to Padang, Indonesia after a quake there in 2009.
He said the ground situation this time was different, “The challenge was more towards structure. This time round it was really concrete with bars and with tall buildings that had been compressed.”
Thanking the SCDF officers, New Zealand High Commissioner Mr Hamilton said, “We are very deeply grateful to Singapore for what it has done in such a short time.”
“Because of the excellent work the Singapore Civil Defence Force was doing, we've asked them to extend a further week,” he said.
The remaining 34 members of the Ops Lionheart team will continue to help with recovery work and are expected to return to Singapore on 13 March.