An all-female group of army pallbearers carried the body of Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker off an air force Hercules, in a poignant ramp ceremony at Christchurch airport.
Lance Cpl Baker, 26, an army medic from Christchurch, was the first female New Zealand soldier killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War when a roadside bomb killed her, Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, and Private Richard Harris, 21, last Sunday in Afghanistan.
A guard of honour greeted the Hercules carrying their bodies as it touched down on Thursday afternoon. Soldiers, chaplains and close family boarded the plane to pay their respects privately.
As the caskets were carried off to hearses soldiers performed a haka.
The three soldiers killed on Sunday were part of the 140-strong New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan province. Two weeks earlier two other PRT members Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer, both 26, were killed in a firefight in the same northeast area of the province.
Chief of Army Major General Tim Keating said he was privileged to stand beside the families of Cpl Tamatea, Lance Cpl Baker and Pte Harris, and "honour their sacrifice with the dignity and respect they deserve".
"I pay tribute to their selfless courage and sacrifice that they have made in the name of world peace," Maj Gen Keating said.
Allied commanders, including US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Martin E Dempsey and commander of the International Security Assistance Force General John R Allen, were among those to farewell the three New Zealanders this week at a ramp ceremony at Bagram air base.
Final arrangements are being made for a memorial service expected to be on Saturday at Burnham Military Camp.The families are expected to hold private funeral services later next week.
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