Safe!

Dra­matic wa­ter res­cue at Silky Oaks

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SHANE NI­CHOLS AND SCOTT TIBBALLS Pic­ture: Shane Ni­chols

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

Alf Fowler

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.”

Pic­ture: CHRIS O’DOWD

The swift wa­ter res­cue team sets out to res­cue guests washed down­stream sev­eral hun­dred me­tres from Silky Oaks, Fin­lay­vale

Pic­ture: SHANE NI­CHOLS

Port Dou­glas sta­tion of­fi­cer Rory Kel­li­her (left) dis­cusses the swift wa­ter res­cue at Silky Oaks with Moss­man sta­tion chief Mel Collins

Pic­ture: CHRIS O’DOWD

The team pre­pares

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