HIGH SAVIOURS: To escape the rising flood waters Forest Hill residents walk towards a Sea King helicopter to be then evacuated to Gatton. Photograph by: Petty Officer Damian Pawlenko
HIGH SAVIOURS: To escape the rising flood waters Forest Hill residents walk towards a Sea King helicopter to be then evacuated to Gatton. Photograph by: Petty Officer Damian Pawlenko

Flood hero returns

MANY of the stories from the January floods detail the desperation experienced in the Lockyer Valley, but this story may provide insight into the human spirit as well.

Most people who experienced the events around January 11 would be familiar with the amount of helicopters buzzing around the district on vital missions, but one Navy Sea Hawk helicopter pilot returned to Plainland last week to make his own small, but significant award to the people who helped he and his crew during the floods.

Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) in the Royal Australian Navy Scott Palmer returned to award engraved plaques to business owners from Schulte's Meats and the Coffee Club as a token of appreciation for the help provided to his crew evacuating people from Forest Hill and Laidley.

LCDR Palmer said his helicopter was involved in flood rescue work around western Queensland before getting orders to get to Lockyer Valley as soon as possible on January 11.

With rain pelting down and visibility getting worse, the Sea Hawk was forced to fly under the low cloud base from Amberley before locating the EMQ fuel dump at Plainland and landing near the chemist shop.

"We didn't do anything on the day we weren't trained to do and it was an amazing feeling to be able to help," Mr Palmer said.

"It's a double edged sword to feel so satisfied with the success of the flight and yet realise people were suffering."

This is where the generosity of the Plainland businesses came to the fore.

Not only were the crew of four and ground crew of three from the Sea Hawk looked after by businesses at Plainland including the Plainland Hotel, KFC and the Caltex service station, who were supplying not only the Sea Hawk crew but the many other military and civilian crews flying operations in the region, but the people who were being evacuated from towns around the district as well.

Craig and Katrina O'Neill, owners of the Plainland Coffee Club franchise, said there was a lot of tension in what had become a makeshift evacuation centre, but after reassuring people, the anxiety settled.

"We had a computer station and people could recharge mobiles and contact loved ones," Mr O'Neill said.

Katrina O'Neill said when people realised food would not run out and some sort of routine was established, a surreal atmosphere settled over Plainland with stranded truck drivers pitching in to help.

"The truckies were brilliant as we were short of staff (because of the floods) as well," she said.

Paul Schulte said he was glad to be able to help and regarded himself as one of the lucky ones to be in a position to help keeping the Plainland Hotel and others supplied with meat and was honoured by LCDR's gesture.

"We are really impressed with the gesture," he said.


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