Senior Constable Brett Norris of Whitsunday Water Police receives a silver medal that gives public recognition for an act of bravery to those who risk their own lives to save the lives of others.
The Whitsunday Water Police Officer, of Airlie Beach, receives the silver medal in recognition of going to the rescue of 37 passengers and crew of the two-mast schooner "Romance" wrecked on rocks at Caves Cove, Hook Island, on February 12, 2008.
President of Whitsunday Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) Michaela Moss was on radio duty that night.
"At 1.20 a.m. the call from the 'Romance' indicated they had broken their mooring and were in distress and heading for the rocks."
"A water police boat and the VMR vessel were dispatched from Airlie Beach.
"However, when the boats reached the site they found the ship on the lee shore rocks at a 45-degree angle and in a position too dangerous to come alongside to attempt a rescue.
The passengers onboard, mostly foreign backpackers, were terrified as they endured the storm conditions.
Around 3 a.m., police contacted the CQ RESCQ helicopter.
This crew and another from Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) in Townsville both took part in the rescue described as 'an example of extreme teamwork under very challenging conditions'.
The police boat was unable to approach the stricken ship because of three-metre breaking waves driven by high nor' westerly winds described by Senior Constable Norris, an eight-year veteran of the Whitsunday Water Police, as "the worst conditions I had seen inside the islands."
Senior Constable Norris "grabbed a pair of fins, put on a wet suit and swam."
At 7.30am the CQ RESQ helicopter crewed by Messrs Dowler, Scanlon, Hinder and Hoare deployed to the wreck of "Romance" and searched the scene where the sea state was 2-3m swells and winds blowing at 30-40 knots. The monsoon trough created at times a cloud base at 500 feet.
Wedged on jagged rocks and listing at a 45-degree angle the rigging of the two steel masts on the schooner were hazards for winching operations.
CQ RESCQ crewman Phillip Dowler was winched down onto the rocks to join Snr Const Norris who had swum from the police tender through the surf in the dark onto the rocks and secured ropes to the vessel.
The two men were joined by a crewman from the EMQ helicopter and decided that winching from the vessel, rather than trying to bring the 37 people by rope from the ship to the rocks was the practical and safer rescue procedure.
The rigging was secured, minimizing dangers in winching; the 37 onboard were briefed on winching procedures and despatched the passengers, two at a time up to the aircraft. The final winch carried Messrs Dowler and Norris who had spent two and a half hours organizing the winching from the yacht.
The action is recognised as the largest helicopter rescue operation from one vessel in Australian history.
CQ RESQ crew members Phillip Dowler, Heath Scanlon, John Hinder and Daniel Hoare will also receive bronze bravery awards from The Royal Humane Society of Australasia in Brisbane. Phillip Dowler is General Manager of CQ RESQ.
The Royal Humane Society of Australasia, formed in 1874, is concerned with giving public recognition to acts of bravery by making awards to those who risk their own lives to save the lives of others.
Over forty boats sank, ran aground or were damaged around the Airlie Beach foreshore on that disastrous night and early morning in February 2008.
A family of six were rescued that night by three brave police officers as their uninsured family boat disintegrated on a rock wall at Airlie Beach.
Fair winds to Ye!