February 11, 2019 19:06:00
Dramatic police bodycam vision has captured the moment officers carried a 79-year-old man out of rising floodwaters that swamped his home near Richmond in north-west Queensland.
Sergeant Rob Hanson said he knew it was a race against time to rescue Des Smith, who was confined to a mobility walker, shivering from cold and about 20 minutes away from drowning as the water continued to rise.
During the height of the flooding in the west last Thursday, police found themselves in a helicopter heading to Maxwelton, near Richmond.
One of Mr Smith’s neighbours called police to the property, and Sergeant Hanson said they arrived to find him struggling in floodwaters that was about waist-deep through his home.
“Des was shaking and shivering, and I thought he was going hypothermic and I knew he wasn’t in a good way,” Sergeant Hanson said.
“Just for the fact that Des was in a low-seated position on his mobility walker and the water was rising, it probably would have been 20 minutes, half an hour before the water came over his head.”
Sergeant Hanson and Senior Constable Luke Southgate had to wade against the current to get to the house to help carry Mr Smith to a helicopter, which had landed on nearby railroad tracks.
“We couldn’t really wait to get a boat or further assistance to get him out of there and I saw the water was rising and I knew that he may drown,” Sergeant Hanson said.
“He was concerned about his dog, so I opened up some of the meat that he had for his dog, put it on the bed, put the dog on the bed, and then myself and Luke basically sort of shepherded him out [of] there.
“He [Mr Smith] put his arms around my neck, Luke balanced his body, and when we got into the deep stuff — the current was very strong.”
Elderly man shivering, exhausted
Sergeant Hanson said it took a long time to get Mr Smith through the water.
“Finally we got him onto the railroad tracks and we were walking towards the helicopter, by this time he was really, really shivering and exhausted and I was really worried about his condition,” he said.
“We had to remove the door from the helicopter, then physically pick him up and put him in the raised helicopter, which took a lot of effort.”
Sergeant Hanson then had to leave the helicopter to help more people.
“We still had two or three properties we hadn’t checked, and the water was still coming up so then I went basically to each property trying to fight the current and we got two more people out of there by helicopter, another two were in high-set houses and they were all right,” he said.
“A few times I went over my head — swallowed a bit of water.
“It’s funny, you’re seeing all the snakes go by and everything else that’s floating in the water, so yes, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it was worth it getting everybody out.”
Sergeant Hanson said the flight in the helicopter gave him a true insight into the devastation below.
“It was raining, visibility was really, really low, and the flight out there, there was just absolute devastation the amount of rain, it looked like an inland sea,” he said.
“You could see the dead cattle — you could see cattle swimming, it was just incredible.”
‘Really grateful and happy’
The story ends well for Mr Smith, who has since had a visit from Sergeant Hanson.
“We visited a few days later — the old folks’ home — and I talked to Des and he was really grateful and happy,” Sergeant Hanson said.
“I shook his hand and he was getting the proper care — he looked a lot better by then.”
February 11, 2019 17:40:52