An RAF Chinook helicopter has begun dropping aid packages to farms left stranded by heavy snowdrifts.
The crew took off from Aldergrove yesterday afternoon with a cargo load of feed bales, heading straight to the worst-hit areas in the Glens of Antrim.
The relief mission brought much-needed aid to farmers who are struggling in the worst conditions in living memory.
Thousands of animals are feared to have perished in the freezing temperatures.
Yesterday, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill revealed she had also sought help from the Irish Air Corps. Ms O’Neill said she would press for a hardship payment for farmers at tomorrow’s Executive meeting.
The pledge came as some farms were left cut off for a fifth day by the Arctic weather, which has brought large parts of Northern Ireland to a standstill.
Food parcels and medication have also been delivered to people left snowbound since last Friday.
Blankets of snow have enveloped parts of counties Antrim and Down, with drifts of up to 20 feet reported in some areas.
It has prompted an unprecedented response operation involving the emergency services, aid workers and now the military.
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The Chinook travelled from its RAF base in Hampshire yesterday morning and landed at Aldergrove at 12.30pm.
After being loaded with supplies, it headed to Co Antrim with a senior official from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on board to pinpoint farms most in need.
A surveillance helicopter was also deployed in a bid to find missing livestock. Up to 10,000 animals are feared to have frozen to death, with many farmers describing the conditions as the worst in living memory. Glenariff farmer James McHenry called for snow mobiles to be made available so farmers can free trapped sheep unable to reach the fodder which has been airlifted in.
Emergency services have been working with relief agencies including the Red Cross to provide basic supplies like bread and milk to people snowed in for days.
Red Cross volunteers have lent 4x4 transport assistance to healthcare workers unable to make home visits to vulnerable clients.
Volunteers also transported 30 nurses to work in the Royal Victoria, Mater, City and Musgrave Park hospitals.
Red Cross volunteer Jock Magowan, who was deployed to assist the PSNI with the distribution of food parcels in the Glens, described how volunteers were confronted by scenes of chaos.
“The snow in Glenarm was extremely deep. We were sinking into drifts up to the chest,” he said. “I brought a food parcel to a man who hadn't seen a soul for four days and whose electricity had only just come back on.”
Ms O’Neill, speaking during a visit to farms in the Kilcoo area of Co Down, said she would press for compensation for those worst affected.
“DARD does not have an emergency contingency fund to deal with extreme weather events but I will explore the issue of hardship payments and support for disposal of fallen stock with the Executive this Thursday.
“My officials are also monitoring the situation and continue to provide veterinary and agricultural advice to farmers,” she said.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers vowed to provide whatever support was available.
“I'm extremely pleased that we were able to answer the Agriculture Minister’s request for a military helicopter to get food on the ground for stranded animals,” she said. “We continue to keep the situation under close watch and will do all we can to respond to help local communities.”
More icy conditions forecast
Forecasters have warned that snow and icy weather is set to continue over the next 48 hours. The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for more snow as temperatures continue to remain around freezing, but will feel more like -5C due to the wind chill. The Co Down and Armagh areas have been worst affected due to deep snow drifts and wintry weather conditions will remain for the next few days. A Met Office forecaster said to expect a widespread frost and up to five centimeters of snow in hilly parts of the province today. The south-east will be worst affected.