Rescue just a ‘drop in the ocean'
IPSWICH firefighter Brad Mills' involvement in the rescue of 15 people during the deadly “inland tsunami” in the Lockyer Valley started out with what seemed like a regulation call out to a swift water rescue.
Stationed at Cannon Hill in Brisbane's eastern suburbs, Mr Mills was part of a team of firefighters called to Withcott, near Toowoomba, on Monday, January 10 – the afternoon that flash flooding whipped up furious floodwaters, which killed at least 17 people.
But the firefighters were delayed en route to the rescue when they received a call that the Helidon Bridge had been cut off and three people – a man, his wife and their young son – were stranded on the roof of their vehicle.
Mr Mills said firefighters were able to commandeer a Channel Seven news chopper, but by the time they got back up in the air, the car had been swept away and the three family members separated.
“We found the female in a tree in the middle of the floodwater – the current was unbelievable – there was an incredible amount of water,” Mr Mills said.
The chopper landed about 50m away from the woman and Mr Mills and swift water rescue partner Andrew Neil were able to swim out to the woman and get her to safety.
“She was distraught – she'd just seen her son and husband get swept away,” Mr Mills said.
“We tried to reassure her that we had crews out searching for them.”
A New South Wales Rural Fire Service chopper crew then found the woman's nine-year-old son about 2km downstream, clinging to a piece of farm machinery.
He was rescued, however the man is still missing.
Despite his heroics in saving the woman's life, plus 15 others over several hours, Mr Mills said the people of Lockyer Valley had done a lot of the work before he even got there.
He was also regretful of all the people he saw stranded on rooftops that could not be helped because he could not get access to them.
“A lot of people were evacuated and rescued by other locals. There was someone in a boat getting people out and there were people being rescued from the roofs of cars,” he said.
“There was probably a lot that happened out there that I don't even know about.
“There were rescues going on all across south-east Queensland, so what we did was just another drop in the ocean.”