Recognition for rescue carried out in ‘most trying conditions’

FOUR navy personnel, three from HMAS Albatross, have received bravery awards for their involvement in rescuing stranded people during the 2011 Queensland floods.

Petty Officer Nicholas Anderson, Chief Petty Officer Kerwyn Ballico and Lieutenant Simon Driessen, from HMAS Albatross, along with Commander Scott Palmer, who is now based at Canberra, received the award last Wednesday.

The awards were presented by the Governor of NSW Professor Marie Bashir during a ceremony at Government House.

Commander Palmer said it was nice to formalise the award.

“It was fantastic to meet the Governor of NSW and see Government House. I had never been there before,” he said.

“It is always with a tinge of sadness that I think about that rescue; there were a lot of people we couldn’t help,” he said.

“However my thoughts are overwhelmingly positive with how well my crew performed.

“I couldn’t be prouder than to be a part of that crew. It reinforces why I joined the navy in the first place.

“We simply can’t do what we do without the support of a dedicated team of maintainers.

“There were 12 guys whose dedication to their work made it possible for us to get in that helicopter that morning and take it flying in the most trying conditions any of us had experienced.

“We had full confidence that it would perform as expected. While we do our best to let them know how much we appreciate their work, they rarely get the public recognition they deserve.”

The bravery medals were given to the men who were part of a navy Sea King helicopter crew conducting evacuation operations in the Laidley area, when they rescued a man from floodwaters west of Brisbane.

Lt Driessen and Commander Palmer piloted the aircraft, Chief PO Ballico was the winch operator and PO Anderson was the crewman on the end of the winch wire.

It was the evening of January 11, 2011, at the height of the Queensland floods, and the Sea King crew was conducting evacuation operations when they spotted a man being swept along Laidley Creek.

The crew attempted to winch the man to safety and came within reach before being forced to pull away.

The man was swept further down the river where he was able to grab hold of a tree and was eventually winched aboard the helicopter.

PO Anderson was at the bottom of the winch as it was being lowered over the floodwater – he got to within a metre of the man, however was unable to grab him.  

As the man was swept towards a tree, the pilots manoeuvred the craft away, moving PO Anderson, on the rope, out of its path.

The stricken man managed to grab hold of the tree and pull himself out of the water into the tree canopy.  

This allowed the PO Anderson to be lowered into the tree and, after calming the man, connect a harness to him and they were then winched up into the helicopter to safety. 

Quick to downplay any suggestion of remarkable bravery, PO Anderson said he and his fellow crewmen were just doing their job.

“It’s a group thing,” he said.

“At that point in time I’m just doing what I’m trained to do.”

BRAVE: Recipients of a group citation for bravery, Petty Officer Nicholas Anderson, Lieutenant Simon Driessen, Commander Scott Palmer and Chief Petty Officer Kerwyn Ballico.

BRAVE: Recipients of a group citation for bravery, Petty Officer Nicholas Anderson, Lieutenant Simon Driessen, Commander Scott Palmer and Chief Petty Officer Kerwyn Ballico.

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