Dramatic water rescue at Silky Oaks
ALF Fowler of Silky Oaks and Spanish guests Carmen Mora (left), her boyfriend Miguel Crespo and friend Bellen Fiestas enjoy a beer after their rescue in a dramatic incident on Mossman River on Tuesday night.
THE skill and courage of Silky Oaks staff and a swift water rescue team saved the lives of three Spanish tourists who were swept downstream in the Mossman River late Tuesday afternoon.
After the tourists were rescued, new Port Douglas station chief Rory Kelliher said they were lucky to be alive. Mr Kelliher had led a swift water rescue team based in Cairns.
The guests had been washed 300 metres downstream, near some rapids which were in flood. “It was such a close thing,” Mr Kelliher said.
“Of course, further downstream there were multiple hazards that could have dramatically changed this whole scenario.”
Silky Oaks resort porter Alf Fowler told the Gazette he went down to the river after being alerted by the manager that the river was rising and some guests had earlier gone kayaking and were still in the water.
“I got down there and saw them and they were in trouble,” Mr Fowler said.
“One guest was clinging to some plants and two others were stranded on a rock. It wasn’t a good thing to see – I was freaked out by the whole thing, but you didn’t think about it, I knew what I had to do.”
Mr Fowler stripped to his underpants and put on a life vest, grabbed a flotation tube and waded through surging chest high water over to the guest clinging to the plants, Bellen Fiestas, who is in her mid 20s and is staying at the resort as part of a family group that includes the other people in the drama, Carmen Mora and Miguel Crespo, also in their late 20s.
“She was in a canoe between two trees on the far side and I got her to the bank.
“The other two were stuck in the middle of the river on a rock and I went back out to get them. We linked arms and turned our backs to the current and came across the river back to the shore. It was a very powerful river – it was so strong.”
Mr Fowler said the Spaniards had remained calm throughout the incident, waiting 45 minutes with him on the far bank for the water level to fall and the rescue team to arrive.
“They weren’t panicking. They handled it really well. We talked about having a beer when it was all over.”
Silky Oaks tour guide Chris O’Dowd acted as observer, wading through creeks to keep visual contact with the party. He said the river had risen dramatically in about five minutes, around 4:30pm, just before the incident began.
He said the management of the resort had been very efficient in getting emergency services to the scene.
Fire and rescue units from Port Douglas and Mossman arrived, along with ambulances.
The swift water rescue team used a white water raft to retrieve the guests from the far side of the river and return them to Silky Oaks by around 6pm.
We linked arms and turned our backs to the current and came across the river. It was a very powerful river – so strong
Ms Fiestas said the family had wanted to go kayaking in the afternoon and when they entered the water it had not seemed unusually high or turbulent.
“We went down the river and paddled back up again but then I noticed the river was getting very strong,” said Mr Crespo. “The river came up in a few minutes.”
Mr Fowler said the river had seemed “normal” – “otherwise they wouldn’t have gone in, but it came up so quickly.
“There hadn’t been much rain here it all in the afternoon – it must have been up on the Tableland. We keep an eye on it. If the river comes up we put up a sign and barrier across the path to the river. But with this there wasn’t even a chance to do that.
“There’s a good lesson in this for everyone. They are very lucky to be alive.”
The swift water rescue team sets out to rescue guests washed downstream several hundred metres from Silky Oaks, Finlayvale
Port Douglas station officer Rory Kelliher (left) discusses the swift water rescue at Silky Oaks with Mossman station chief Mel Collins
The team prepares