Rescue crew acknowledged for astonishing efforts


A rescue crew has been awarded for its extraordinary efforts after a treacherous rescue off Newcastle’s coast last year. 

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Pilot Graeme Anderson.

The Westpac 1 Rescue Helicopter Crew received the Professional Commendation Award at the 2020 Australian Search and Rescue Awards last week.

Pilot Graeme Anderson, who has worked for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service since 2002, said it was an honour to receive the recognition.

“I’m a little bit surprised,” he said.

“It’s an honour to be awarded like this – it wasn’t expected at all.

“At the end of the day we were doing the job we are highly trained to do.”

He added that even though it was a tough rescue it was not the worst he has had to face. 

On Thursday 11 July 2019, Mr Anderson, alongside Air Crewman Officer Sean Flanagan, Paramedic Sean Vallance and Doctor Tim Starkey, were tasked to a beacon search after a distress signal was detected 25 kilometres off Newcastle’s coast. 

The crew battled severe weather conditions, involving swells of up to five metres, cold water temperatures, high cloud base cover, and intense winds of up to 30 knots. 

The distress signal from the vessel was first detected by the Australia Maritime Safety Authority at about 10am that morning, and the crew arrived at the scene 45 minutes later. 

Five people were located in the water beside an upturned catamaran yacht. 

Paramedic Sean Vallance was then winched down beside the upturned vessel in high seas and very rough swell to rescue the passengers. 

He retrieved two survivors via an accompanied winch extraction and also found three other people next to the yacht who were deceased.

“The conditions were pretty bad out there but we did what we had to do and we managed to save two people, a father and daughter,” Mr Anderson said.

“Being in daylight, we knew we could get in there and we could save them and get back to dry land.”

Mr Anderson said, while it was nice to be acknowledged, paramedic Sean Vallance deserved the most recognition because he had the hardest task of all. 

“Sean Vallance, who was the paramedic was the one who went in the water and had to deal with it all,” he said.

“He actually had the hard task of rescuing the survivors. At the end of the day, Sean should have all the recognition.”

Mr Anderson says that, when you’ve been performing rescues for as long as he has, it becomes second nature.

He adds he does not view it as anything extraordinary – for him, it is what he has been trained to do. 

“There is no emotion in the moment,” he said.

“That comes in later, after the rescue – you go: ‘Wow, that was big’.” 

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