The Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Marie Bashir AC CVO, last week presented the crew of a Royal Australian Navy Sea King helicopter with the Group Bravery Citation at Government House, Sydney, in recognition of their exemplary rescue efforts during the 2011 Queensland floods.
With Commander Scott Palmer as the pilot, Lieutenant Simon Driessen as co-pilot, Chief Petty Officer Kerwyn Ballico as winch operator and Petty Officer Nicholas Anderson as the aircrewman on the winch, the four man crew risked their own lives in the face of terrible weather conditions to safely conduct a rescue.
As the Commanding Officer of 817 Squadron at the time of the event, Commander Paul Moggach was extremely proud of the individual and group contributions made that day.
“The conduct of the Sea King helicopter crew, callsign Shark 21, was spontaneous, professional, exhausting and well beyond that ordinarily expected of such personnel,” he said.
Shark 21 was conducting flood relief and evacuation operations in the town of Laidley, Qld, as part of the emergency response to the flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley.
During the final stage of evacuation at Laidley, the crew of Shark 21 conducted a winch rescue described by Commander Moggach as an extremely skilful and courageous piece of airmanship.
On the evening of 11 January 2011, during their final flight of the day, the Aircraft Captain, then Lieutenant Commander Scott Palmer sighted a person caught in the rapidly moving flood water.
“The person in the water was in imminent danger when we committed to the rescue,” he said.
“A sense of urgency was required to conduct a water rescue, but the stakes changed when during the process of that rescue the person in the water managed to climb a tree protruding from the dangerous torrent.
“We do not practice winching people out of trees, in fact, Naval aircrewman are taught to treat trees as threats and to keep the winch wire away from them.
“This comes from a fear of damage to the winch wire and also due to the risk of snagging the wire, which can, if mishandled by the pilot in control, lead to the control margins of the aircraft being exceeded and the aircraft crashing.
Commander Moggach further emphasised the risk to and in turn bravery of the crew involved when the water rescue turned to a winch operation from a tree.
“Petty Officer Anderson’s actions as the wireman were well beyond the typical job we do.
“In particular, his entry to the tree was dangerous and would, in the ordinary course of winch operations, be classified as an unsuitable to execute due to the risk of snagging the winch wire on obstructions.
“In this case however, it was clear to both Petty Officer Anderson and the aircraft crew that the only way to conduct the rescue was for the wireman to enter the tree.
“Even when the situation required him to do something he had never done before, Petty Officer Anderson displayed exceptional presence of mind, astute judgement and courage in effecting this rescue.
“The brave actions of this crew saved a life that day.
“Their remarkable achievement reflects outstanding command and control, risk management and exceptional leadership under extremely difficult conditions."
The ADF provides a significant amphibious capability as part of the range of Humanitarian assistance and Disaster Relief options the Government has to activate in the case of emergency or natural disaster.