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Former Chief Aircrewman reflects on devastating floods

CareFlight’s General Manager of Operations looks back on his time in rescue chopper during Bundaberg floods. 

On Australia Day 2013, Bundaberg faced one of its worst natural disasters with more than 7,500 displaced by during the floods created by Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald.

CareFlight answered the call for help sending four helicopters and two Lear jets into the region to help out those in desperate need.

CareFlight’s General Manager of Operations Brian Guthrie was a Chief Aircrewman during the Bundaberg floods and says the extent of the floods was unimaginable.

“Thirteen years in the army, flying in East Timor and other emergencies, still didn’t prepare me for the scale of the flood disaster in Bundaberg.”

“When we hit Bundaberg airspace it was shocking, unrecognisable. Dirty brown water stretched as far you could see, with tiny little islands of land and the roofs of homes just visible.”

“There was a fair bit of silence in the cockpit at that moment.”

“It was a lot worse than what we’d seen on television and even though we have all worked in flood rescues it was still very confronting.”

During that time, RACQ CareFlight Rescue helicopters winched five people to safety and airlifted more than 200 residents to higher ground in two days.

Brain says that first day was a blur of rescues and transfers as they moved dozens of people to higher ground, and safety.

“I really felt for these people, forced to leave their homes with so little. Their whole world was in a bag. They didn’t know what had happened to their homes and they were travelling into more uncertainty.”

“Despite all this they could still smile and thank us. They were amazing.”

“The generosity of the Bundaberg people knew no limits. Lois Donovan from Argyle Garden Village heard we were coming to the city to help. She offered us rooms, other people brought in air beds. It was such a significant gesture as there were at least 30 crew members.”

“We were prepared to sleep in the chopper, so to have the offer of a bed was wonderful.”

“I couldn’t help but think how the big-heartedness of Bundaberg people reminded me of our CareFlight supporters. Your donations have allowed us to fly to the aid of the sick and injured for 30 years.”

One of CareFlight’s first rescue missions during the floods will be etched in Brain’s mind forever.

“We hit the ground running that day immediately flying to North Bundaberg for two winch rescues, airlifting five people from their flooded homes. That included a heavily pregnant Helen Smith, her husband Dan and their 15 month old son James.”

“I’ll never forget the expression on that little boy’s face, or Helen’s words of thanks.”

Brian says he still thinks about that day and how fortunate they were to find the Smiths before the flood waters took hold of them.

“It’s only after a mission, back in the safety of your own home, that you can look back and get a true picture of the enormity of the event. And I can’t help but think of the parallels between my family and those in Bundaberg, particularly the Smiths. At the time of the rescue, my wife was also heavily pregnant and we too had a youngster around James’ age.

“This is an example of why I’m committed to CareFlight Rescue. It also shows in the level of support we receive from our generous donors, which makes this work possible.”