Home' Navy News : November 7th 2013 Contents YOUR
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November 7, 2013 www.defence.gov.au/news/NAVYNEWS
'JUST another day in the life
of an aviator" is how LSA
Blake Woolard describes
hanging from a helicopter
in pitch darkness in the middle of the
Tasman Sea while being pounded by
massive waves with the chopper run-
ning short on fuel and attempting a
Certainly September 29 began as
a routine day for LS Woolard, pilot
LCDR David O'Toole, aviation war-
fare officer LEUT Phillip Rhodes and
instructor POA Colin McCallum, of
816SQN, but it soon developed into one
of high drama.
"After landing Seahawk Tiger 74 on
HMAS Perth for a day of deck-landing
training, we were immediately re-tasked
with a rescue," LCDR O'Toole said.
French couple Bernard and
Dominique Lorencea were struggling in
a life raft in high seas after their yacht
sank 385 nautical miles east of Eden.
Before capsizing, the couple had
been able to contact NSW Police via
satellite phone and the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue
Coordination Centre had tasked its
Dornier search and rescue plane, issued
a broadcast to shipping in the area and
requested military assistance.
"The Dornier located the yacht just
before 3.30pm and was able to drop
survival equipment, which included the
life raft, to the pair," LCDR O'Toole
"At 6.25pm a merchant ship
responding to the broadcast also located
the couple but 4-5m swells and 25 knot
winds prevented a rescue attempt."
As Perth sailed closer to the
Lorencea's position, reducing the dis-
tance the helicopter needed to fly, the
816SQN crew made good use of the
time they describe as the "calm before
"Each member of the team had
preparations to make," PO McCallum
"The most vital at this stage being
those of LEUT Rhodes who had to cal-
culate the best launch time and the fuel
requirements for the aircraft to get there
and return with enough extra built in to
complete the rescue."
The crew also ran through various
scenarios to ensure they were prepared
"We took off shortly after 8pm,"
LEUT Rhodes said.
"Even with the Lorencea's coordi-
nates it was like looking for a needle in
a haystack -- in the dark."
Fortunately the Seahawk's night-
vision capability made the task a little
easier, but if finding the couple proved
to be a relatively straightforward pro-
cess, the situation started to get more
challenging from there.
"Our fuel was rapidly decreasing
making every minute matter and the
aircraft was being buffeted, which made
the job of wireman and winchman more
difficult," LCDR O'Toole said.
"As a result, trying to position LS
Woolard either near or in the life raft
was difficult and he was constantly
spinning around on the winch, being
pounded by the waves and getting
dunked in the water."
Once in the life raft, LS Woolard
was keen to get the couple to safety as
quickly as possible.
"I managed to locate Bernard
who refused to go first, insisting that
his wife be rescued before him," LS
"So I winched Mrs Lorencea to
safety, but before I could return for
Bernard, the fuel had reached critical
levels and crucial decisions had to be
"Given Perth had moved closer,
reducing the distance we had to fly, we
allocated 60 more seconds for one last
The crew describes these moments
as a "bit intense" because if the attempt
was unsuccessful they would have to
return to the ship and refuel before
returning and there was a strong possi-
bility Mr Lorencea would no longer be
in the life raft when they got back.
"I was lowered one last time and, to
everyone's relief, we winched Bernard
to safety," LS Woolard said.
The crew of Tiger 74 tells Dallas McMaugh about the day they rescued a French couple from the Tasman.
Rescue all part of the job
(L-R) LEUT Phillip
Rhodes, PO Colin
David O'Toole and
LS Blake Woolard
rescue French couple
(right) after their
yacht sank 385NM
east of Eden.
Main photo: Rob Crawford
NOW we are back in France with our
family and friends, we often think of
those to whom we owe our lives.
When we tell of our shipwreck, we
relay the efficiency and effectiveness
of Australian aid that succeeded, at
the risk of their own lives, to save us
so quickly while we were away from
the coast in difficult conditions espe-
cially for a helicopter.
Thank you to those who responded
to our call, thank you to those who co-
ordinated our rescue, thank you to the
crew of the rescue plane, thank you to
the pilots and crew of the helicopter,
the ship that watched over us, HMAS
Perth, and her crew who collected us
and comforted us.
Congratulations on this fantastic
job! We will not forget you.
With immense gratitude from
Bernard and Dominique Lorencea
LETTER OF THANKS
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