Evacuated with wisdom and courage

This article has photo gallery Published on SBLT Dean Gilbert (author), Unknown (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Ballarat (F155), HMAS Shepparton (A03), Exercise TALISMAN SABRE

An Aircrewman from HMAS Ballarat watches as HMAS Ballarat's MH60-R helicopter prepares to conduct a casualty extraction from HMAS Shepparton. (photo: Unknown)
An Aircrewman from HMAS Ballarat watches as HMAS Ballarat's MH60-R helicopter prepares to conduct a casualty extraction from HMAS Shepparton.

When one of their own became a real-time casualty, the crew of survey motor launch, HMAS Shepparton acted swiftly to provide an immediate response and medical evacuation by helicopter.

Soon after Shepparton and sister ship HMAS Benalla sailed from Cairns for a survey operation, one of Shepparton’s crew was discovered collapsed.

Able Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Liam Beckett sprung into action and provided first aid to his unconscious crewmate.

Soon the rest of Ship’s Medical Emergency Team were on hand and realised expert medical advice was needed, and sought support via satellite phone while they worked to stabilise the member’s condition.

The member required medical evacuation for further examination and ongoing treatment, but unfortunately the nearest hospital ashore was greater than a six hour steam from Shepparton’s position.

Luckily, a large number of Australian warships were operating nearby as part of Exercise TALISMAN SABER, and the Anzac class frigate, HMAS Ballarat immediately launched her Seahawk Romeo to assist.

Shepparton, which is just 36.5 metres long, is not suitable for a helicopter to land on, so the crew had to prepare for an unfamiliar activity, having the aircraft hover over the ship and winch the casualty to safety.

This was the first time a Paluma class survey ship has conducted a helicopter evolution in many years.

Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Shaun Poing-Destre said that the work of all involved was outstanding, and the evacuation went smoothly due to the calm nature in which it was approached.

“The actions of the crew and the flight team were commendable in saving the life of a sailor, and friend, in very testing conditions and with limited training,” he said.

“The skills of the flight team and crew of Ballarat and their quick response recovered what could have been a very different situation.”

The helicopter transferred the casualty to Thursday Island Hospital to undergo further medical assessment. Shepparton and her crew followed, anchoring just off the Island. There they awaited the arrival of a replacement crew member, and provided support to their teammate in hospital.

For his quick and professional actions on discovery of the casualty, Able Seaman Beckett was awarded a Commanding Officer’s Commendation for outstanding performance in his role as a Ship’s Medical Emergency Team member.

The sailor who collapsed has since been released from hospital, and following respite has returned to their duties.