Friday 17 January 2020

Emergency beer flown to pub cut off by fires

Fire tribute: Projections on the sails of the Sydney Opera House yesterday in recognition of those affected by fires across Australia. Photo: AAP Image/Paul Braven/via REUTERS
Fire tribute: Projections on the sails of the Sydney Opera House yesterday in recognition of those affected by fires across Australia. Photo: AAP Image/Paul Braven/via REUTERS

Dominic Nicholls

A Royal Navy pilot rescuing people in Australia has spoken of a critical emergency mission - to supply beer to a pub cut off by the bushfires.

Lt-Cdr Nick Grimmer (35) said HMAS Choules, a 16,000-ton logistics ship, delivered the supplies last Friday to the pub in Mallacoota, a town of around 1,000 people in south-east Victoria.

After flying a seven-hour mission, Lt-Cdr Grimmer said the locals were "extremely pleased" with the 20 kegs and four pallets - "The Australians like a beer it turns out."

Deployed on HMAS Choules since January 1 to help fight the bush fires sweeping large parts of Australia, Lt Cdr Grimmer is serving a three-year military exchange.

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He is working with the Australian Navy's 808 Squadron, which specialises in disaster relief operations, and has been in constant action since November, flying for up to 10 hours a day.

Lt-Cdr Grimmer is the first exchange pilot to be appointed as a Flight Commander, responsible for some of the squadron's six aircraft.

Flying rules dictate that the helicopters must fly clear of cloud and in sight of the surface, with at least 800m (2,600ft) forward visibility. The aircraft have systems to help when these limits are in danger of being breached, as is often the case in the cloudy, murky and windy conditions generated by fires.

"When we are evacuating people who have smoke and fire on their doorsteps we go in as far as we can," he said. "Unfortunately in eight out of 10 cases where people have asked to be evacuated they're just asking too late and we can't get in because the visibility has got so bad.

"However, we do have Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), just like the police use. It gives you really good delineation between the contrast of the land. You can see fields and power lines, but legally we're not allowed to fly on that as our primary visual reference."

When the smoke was really thick he said he lost all illumination and had to use night-vision goggles. "It's a constant risk evaluation," he said, adding there had been many times when he had to do an emergency climb to escape the smoke.

Crews prefer to land next to properties as winch operations are more dangerous. It takes time to lower a crewman down the 60m (200ft) line. Smoke can quickly roll in.

He said there was an element of "animosity" towards those who ignore advice to evacuate. However, those that do choose to remain are generally good at defending their homes. The majority manage to save their properties.

"It's a fine line between ordering people to get out of there and letting them stay, knowing if it [the bushfire] does come and it's really ferocious, they may not get through it."

Telegraph.co.uk

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