Royal Australian Navy sailors rescue drowning man in Honolulu

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), ABIS Steven Thomson (photographer)

Location(s): Honolulu, Hawaii

Topic(s): Exercise RIMPAC

(L-R) Petty Officer Marine Technician Dave Finney, Mr Chad Gillingham, and Chief Petty Officer Communications and Information Systems Craig Davies at the scene of Mr Gillingham's rescue at the waterfront precinct in downtown Honolulu. (photo: ABIS Steven Thomson)
(L-R) Petty Officer Marine Technician Dave Finney, Mr Chad Gillingham, and Chief Petty Officer Communications and Information Systems Craig Davies at the scene of Mr Gillingham's rescue at the waterfront precinct in downtown Honolulu.

Responsive actions by two Royal Australian Navy sailors deployed to Exercise RIMPAC have saved the life of a drowning man at the waterfront precinct in downtown Honolulu.

Hawaiian resident Chad Gillingham fell more than four metres from the pier into the harbour shortly before midnight earlier this month and suffered a serious head wound and lacerations after striking exposed rock on the way down. 

Petty Officer Marine Technician Dave Finney, from Modbury in South Australia, and Chief Petty Officer Communications and Information Systems Craig Davis from HMAS Canberra arrived at the scene a short time later.

Petty Officer Finney said he saw Mr Gillingham struggling to stay afloat on the evening on 7 July and made the call to enter the water to provide assistance. 

“We quickly assessed the situation and determined that Mr Gillingham was unable to help himself - that’s when I made the decision to jump in.”,” he said.

Stripping down to his underwear, Petty Officer Finney leapt in to the water in time to support Mr Gillingham and lead him to a nearby pontoon while Chief Petty Officer Davis called 911 for emergency services.

When firefighters and paramedics arrived, Petty Officer Finney fitted a neck brace and pulled Mr Gillingham out of the water.

Reunited at the scene of the accident, Mr Gillingham said he had little recollection of the events.

“I remember hitting the water and being overwhelmed by a peaceful feeling,” he said.

“I thought, this is it. My next recollection is seeing a fireman in a black coat yelling down at someone who was helping me in the water.

“Then I woke up in the Queens Medical Centre.”

“When I woke up in Queens Emergency Department, the nurse said I must have a guardian angel,” Mr Gillingham recalled.

“Then another male nurse called out and said, ‘No! It was some Australian guy, I’m pretty sure guys don’t like being called angels’.

“They got a kick out of me because they couldn’t believe I wasn’t in worse shape.”

When the three met recently, Mr Gillingham said he couldn’t thank them enough.

“When they saw me in trouble, they knew it was worth doing something about it, and obviously I owe them my life,” he said.

“I have to thank them a million, I mean I can’t thank them enough.”

Petty Officer Finney said he just happened to be there and anyone else would have done the same thing.

“We made a simple assessment - could we do the rescue and was it safe?” Petty Officer Finney said.

“When Chief Petty Officer Davis reinforced my judgement there was no question of whether or not I was going in, I simply did what had to be done.

“We’re very happy to see Mr Gillingham safe and well.” 

Canberra Class Amphibious Ship, HMAS Canberra is visiting Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as part of the Australian Defence Force commitment to Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016.

The ship is currently at sea as part of the world’s largest maritime exercise involving 25,000 people from 26 countries.