REVEALED: Qld’s bravest heroes
Detective Sergeant Adrian Sala was just 20 and in his first year with the Queensland Police Force when he was involved in the most dramatic incident of his career.
Along with six other officers, the then constable helped pursue and arrest a man who was threatening to ignite his petrol-laden car at Coombabah.
"Road strikes were deployed and deflated his tyres and he came to a stop next to a major road," the now 41 year old told News Corp. "I came around to the drivers' side window and I smashed the window with my batten and as we were reaching in we could smell a strong smell of petrol and saw petrol containers in the back of the car. He was trying to set the car on fire."
The driver did indeed flick a struck match into the back seat, but miraculously, it failed to ignite.
Fortunately, the heart-stopping moment did not put Detective Sergeant Sala off a career in policing, and 22 years later, he has and his former colleagues have been honoured along with more than 100 other Australians as part of the 2021 Bravery Decorations List.
"I'm proud that we've all been recognised, but at the end of the day it's the job we signed on for. We were just doing what was required of us at the time," he said.
The awards recognise some people who were specifically trained to respond to emergencies. Others just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
British tourist Tom Jackson was awarded the highest honour, the Star of Courage, for his bravery in trying to protect a fellow backpacker during a knife attack at the Home Hill Hostel near Townsville in 2016. The 30 year old died from injuries he sustained in the attack, as did the woman he was protecting, Mia Ayliffe-Chung.
A total of 16 people were honoured on this year's list for the dramatic night-time attempted rescue of a racing yacht in a ferocious storm off Port Stephens in 2016.
Michael Smith from Bli Bli was one of them.
The Marine Rescue volunteer, now 78, was first officer and engineer on the rescue boat during the operation, which turned perilous when the boat tipped over in heavy seas and one of its two engines failed.
"I was on the top deck manning a searchlight, and I felt this surge coming from our starboard side," Mr Smith said. "I grabbed hold of whatever I could and over she went. One guy on the yacht said he looked back and all he could see was the propellers of the boat. I was on the top deck hanging on for dear life with this searchlight."
Although Mr Smith was involved in other tricky operations during his 15 years of active service with Marine Rescue, he said the conditions during the 2016 Port Stephens rescue were the most severe he had ever encountered.
The Bravery List recognition was "absolutely fabulous recognition for the work that Marine Rescue do as volunteers. And mostly an older group of people," Mr Smith said.
Most of the crew of the rescue boat had been in their 60s at the time of the operation, he said.
Originally published as FULL LIST: Qld's bravest heroes