A Lost Soul

(An excerpt from Rusty’s Tale by Russell Carrington)

Like many other mustering pilots I was called on from time to time to search for someone who was lost, sometimes with a good result, sometimes not so good.

Once I had to go to Floraville Station to help search for a little three-year-old girl who was missing. This was the daughter of my old friends, the Camp family. She had been missing for around five hours by the time I got there, and my good friend and fellow pilot Craig had already arrived and commenced the search.

Now the Camp family were very old school with their stockwork and did not use helicopters to muster, consequently their children had never seen or had much to do with helicopters. Their homestead was not far from the Leichardt River. There was a large and deep waterhole with a precarious steep bank down to the water. A saltwater crocodile had also been sighted there recently.

The weather and flying conditions were atrocious with a cyclone bearing down hard on Burketown which is around sixty kilometres away, there was also very low cloud with around a one-hundred foot ceiling, vicious gusts and driving rain squalls, and I was told that the station measured eight inches of rain that day.

So Craig and I searched most of the day in ever widening circles and things were looking grim, the weather conditions had eased as the day went on and the cyclone had gone past. Meanwhile, the aunty of the little girl was searching down around the causeway about three kilometres away from the homestead and she thought she heard a cry when the helicopters were elsewhere.

It was a good result with her finding the little girl cowering behind a conkleberry bush down below the causeway on the saltwater side. It turned out that the little girl was terrified of the choppers and we had inadvertently been driving her further and further away as we searched.

An incident of note is that because it was so cold and wet I was busting for a leak. I landed in the muddy ground and stood on the skid so as not to bring mud back into the chopper. This caused that skid to drive into the mud a bit and when I took off, the chopper became subject to Dynamic Rollover. It was only good luck that saved me, it happened so fast there was no way I was able to bottom the collective in time but fortunately the skid broke free and all was well.

A few years later I got an early morning call from Thorntonia Station. One of their stockmen was missing overnight so I went over and picked up Lloyd the boss and away we went to where the man was last seen. This fellow was riding a motorbike, and following his tracks through the hills and valleys we could see that he had really taken a wrong heading and was making in the wrong direction very fast.

After a while we spotted some smoke up ahead and flew straight to it. It was obviously lit by the stockman as it was only a fresh fire but try as we might, flying round and round that fire, we couldn’t see him.

Then I remembered what had happened at Floraville so I landed on the good flat and gave Lloyd my handheld radio. I then flew away and pretty soon Lloyd was calling up saying ‘Come back, he is here.’

Now this bloke just about qualified for the dumbest bloke in Australia. Whenever the helicopter had got close to him while we searched he would rush to the top of this little hill that was covered in lancewood scrub and wave his heart out. I still remember how he looked, though, with no shirt and his chest and mouth all covered in dried foam. I left Lloyd there and flew him back to the station, and then I returned and picked up Lloyd. We backtracked him and found the bike where it had stopped, having run out of fuel. Lloyd switched the tank onto reserve and rode it home!

You can get a copy of Rusty’s Tales and other great books at https://storiesofoz.selz.com/

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