FLOODWATER lapped the mattress where an elderly man lay, having already resigned himself to the fact he would drown.

His wife hunched over the end of his bed, helplessly watching and hoping help would arrive.

It did, in the form of a crew from the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter.

Rescuing the couple in Pacific Haven, west of Hervey Bay, was one of three tasks helicopter aircrew officer Rick Harvey was assigned last Sunday ... and one he'll never forget.

"Their house was inundated by water and the man was immobile. He couldn't walk out and even trying to get him into a tinny was a problem," he recalled.

 

The rescue of the elderly man on oxygen from Pacific Haven had to be done without hampering his breathing.
The rescue of the elderly man on oxygen from Pacific Haven had to be done without hampering his breathing.

"We turned into the bedroom and here's this old fella on oxygen, lying on the bed, with water lapping at the side of his bed and just waiting there to drown.

"It was really quite upsetting to see him lying there with the water on the bed, there was nothing he could do but be winched out of there."

Mr Harvey said because the man was frail and on oxygen, they needed to winch him to safety without hampering his breathing.

"The whole time he was scared and I kept yelling at him, 'keep breathing, keep breathing' - you could see he wasn't breathing," he said.

"By the time we got him to the aircraft we needed to get him on oxygen."

The man and his wife were taken to the nearby airstrip where a Bundaberg crew was waiting to fly them to Hervey Bay Hospital.

During their time in Pacific Haven, the chopper crew also tended to people whose car had been washed away and rescued an elderly couple clinging to an upturned tinnie.

"As we flew over it was amazing, this town was under water," Mr Harvey said.

"I saw this house stranded on its own island with people waving for help, but we've got these three tasks we have to keep going.

"That moment hits home - this is big."

Mr Harvey joined the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter service five years ago and was part of a crew despatched to Gympie during the 2011 floods.

He said the hardest part of his job was making life and death decisions.

"You're just going on your experience and gut feeling at the time and you have to make the call.

"That house we flew over was high and dry but they were isolated and you have to make that call to move on because you have tasks where you know people are in imminent danger.

"Days like that are the most difficult.

"Six days later, I'm lying in bed thinking 'should I have gone back to that family?'.

"You sit there looking at news reports and seeing if there are any deaths that occurred in your area."

The AGL Action Rescue Helicopters were the only main winch-equipped aircraft carrying out rescues between Gympie and 1770 as the flood crisis worsened.

In another hairy situation, the Maroochydore-based crew spent 20 minutes searching for a man who was reportedly clinging to a tree.

The report had come in from someone who said they heard him calling for help but did not see him.

"We couldn't find anybody," Mr Harvey said,

With daylight fading fast, fuel almost on empty and a family in need of rescuing from rising floodwaters, they had to make a decision.

"Do we call this one that there's no one actually here and move on, or do we waste the rest of the light and fuel?

"That was a real tense time.

"We'd been going all day and to make that decision to fly away to a house with people on a roof - that was the hardest thing for me.

"As we were flying away I remember taking one last look thinking 'is there somebody down there looking up thinking 'don't go, don't go'.

"In the motel in Bundaberg you're thinking 'I hope there's not somebody clinging to a tree in the river'."

Mr Harvey was in action for two days, winching 12 people to safety.

He returned home last Monday night when a new crew took over.

AGL Action Rescue Helicopter pilot and training team leader David Smith was a member of the new crew which set to lifting people off roofs.

"It was good to get up there and do what the community in Bundaberg has us there for," he said.

"It was good to be able to have our machine in the local area helping the local people."



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