Royal Navy pilot flies rescue missions in Australia bushfire crisis

A NAVY pilot has been flying rescue missions evacuating people trapped in fires that have swept Australia.

Thursday, 9th January 2020, 2:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th January 2020, 7:30 pm

Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer is flying troop-carrying MRH90 helicopters while on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy. He is flying up to 10 hours a day on rescue missions.

Together with five aircrew and 14 engineers he joined amphibious ship HMAS Choules. He flew a rescue mission in the small town of Mallacoota in the south east of the country.

Many people were saved by the ship when they went to the beach for safety. Lt Cdr Grimmer flew a mission to search for trapped people and assess damage.

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Pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer, RN, in an 808 Squadron MRH90 Taipan military support helicopter over the Grose Valley bushfire in the Blue Mountains National Park, Australia. Picture: Commonwealth of Australia

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The ship, formerly in UK service as RFA Largs Bay, carried 1,100 people, 117 dogs, four cats, a parakeet and a rabbit. They were taken safely to Melbourne.

Lt Cdr Grimmer, in service with Australian Navy’s 808 Squadron, said: ‘Watching people – everyone from a baby of two months to an elderly lady in her 90s – get off in Melbourne, relieved, saying “goodbye”, “thank you” and shaking everyone’s hands was very gratifying, definitely the highlight and made all our efforts seem worthwhile.’

The serviceman of 12 years, who has spent six months in Sierra Leone fighting the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014-15, added: ‘The scale of the fires are phenomenal and the devastation is truly horrific. At times it seems the entire horizon is on fire with flames up to 50ft or 60ft high.

Royal Navy exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer with a Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 maritime support helicopter onboard HMAS Choules during Operation Bushfire Assist. Picture: Commonwealth of Australia

‘You have to fly low because of the visibility – then suddenly you find yourself in thick smoke and are forced to either turn back or climb rapidly to avoid running into mountains.

‘There’s a fine line between what you can do and what is not possible, with risks being constantly re-evaluated.

‘I’m an animal lover and seeing the impact on wildlife is heart-breaking – all too often we are seeing dead animals who have succumbed to the fires in fields we are landing in.

‘We recently winched down our aircrewman from 150ft to a man on his porch. His wife had fled the fire a few days before. She had no idea whether he was alive or the house was standing due to no power or communications. We were able to tell her both were safe – that was a wonderful feeling.’

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘We always stand by to help our friends and allies and my thoughts are with the Australian people with whom we share a close bond.

‘Lt Cdr Grimmer is an example of what our military do on a daily basis, putting his life at risk to save others. Flying in incredibly difficult conditions he is doing a job that takes courage, professionalism and skill, demonstrating the best of the Royal Navy.’