Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 4 2009 Contents news
f operational success can be
judged by results alone, then the
casualty evacuation from the
explosion onboard suspected
Illegal entry Vessel (sIeV) 36 was
an outstanding achievement.
The explosion and subsequent fire on SIEV
36 in the Timor Sea left more than 40 people badly
burnt and in need of emergency medical aid.
Commanding Officer of the Armidale
Class Patrol Boat HMAS Childers, Lieutenant
Commander (LCDR) Brett Westcott, said
initially his best hope for evacuation was to
take the men to Darwin which was at least 25
“I told my people to prepare themselves
because given the limited supplies and the
time frame it was going to be tough to get all
the injured back in good shape,” he said. “It
wasn’t long after that I received a signal from
Northern Command (NORCOM) to change
course for the Floating Production, Storage
and Offloading platform Front Puffin, and
a P3 was in the air with more supplies. My
resigned fatalism turned to hope, and it’s
times like those you know you work for a great
While HMA Ships Childers and Albany
were rescuing survivors and searching for
the missing, the on-shore organisation behind
them had burst into action.
Commander NORCOM, Commodore
(CDRE) David Gwyther, said the planning
started immediately by wrapping the
operation’s collective minds around the size
and shape of the problem. “It was a problem
with lots of moving parts across various
agencies, the highest priority was to get the
injured the care and attention they needed as
quickly as we could,” he said.
The health aspects of the operation
were arranged between NORCOM, the WA
Emergency Services, and the NT Emergency
Services. The Departments of Health and
Police and Emergency Service Departments
of both States swung quickly into action.
Responsibilities were quickly refined to
account for the location and rapidly executed.
Commonwealth and State Reception Plan
organisations were quickly activated.
NORCOM was brilliantly assisted with
the transportation and search and rescue
elements of the operation by the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority – Rescue
Coordination Centre (RCC) and Border
Protection Command Headquarters both from
Canberra. The RCC organised the helicopter
assets from Front Puffin to shore and assisted
with the planning of the overall CASEVAC
arrangements. HQBPC liaised with a range
of agencies in Canberra ensuring reception
arrangement responsibilities were clear.
CDRE Gwyther said given all the options
the best was to fly the injured to health care,
which was the option chosen. “NORCOM was
pivot point as we were across all aspects of
the CASEVAC. We could not have achieved
what our combined team did without everyone
teAMwoRk sAVes LIVes
in Timor Sea
By Lt Bill Heck
Out of adversity people excel, and in this circumstance many people excelled,
not only as individuals but also as part of a team. I am very proud of all of them.
– Commander NORCOM, Commodore (CDRE) David Gwyther
in every agency putting in the hard yards and
making things happen,” he said.
LCDR Westcott said the ship’s Medical
Officer turned his Patrol Boat into a casualty
ward and the entire ship’s company into nurses.
“She did the same thing again on the Puffin,”
he said. “It was a real mind shift for some of the
blokes. They showed amazing compassion for
what had become a real human tragedy.”
By 5pm the last of the seriously injured
were transferred to the Front Puffin. The first
helicopter arrived 45 minutes later with eight
doctors on board.
LCDR Westcott said the decision to go to
the Front Puffin was made for him. “Whoever
looked at the chart and thought it was a great
idea got it right because I had only looked at
getting back to Darwin,” he said. “How we
didn’t lose anyone is a phenomenal result
of good training, good equipment, good
organisation and an enormous amount of luck.”
CDRE Gwyther said it was remarkable
that such a large group of people, so seriously
ill, and in such a remote location could be
delivered to the best medical care in the world
in less than 24 hours.
“This operation is an awesome example
of what you can achieve when the players
involved muscle up and brush aside the
jurisdictional issues and get on with it,” he
said. “No-one passed away in the evacuation
process and that’s because of the fantastic
work done by all concerned across all
agencies Commonwealth and State and of
course the team on the Front Puffin. I thank
every one of them for a top job.
“Out of adversity people excel, and in this
circumstance many people excelled, not only
as individuals but also as part of a team. I am
very proud of all of them,” he said.
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