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Shoalhaven Bushwalkers Inc.

PO Box 403
Nowra NSW 2541

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The following information was taken from the Department of Defence website.


Pilots search for walkers

May 15, 2000

Smiling and dry in their RAN overalls ... Chris James, Alison Robb, Karen James and Steven Rowe.
Picture: Hank van Stuivenburg - Illawarra Mercury

Police have called on RAN support to help them find four missing teenage bushwalkers lost in dense parkland near Ulladulla in NSW. The request saw No 723 and No 817 Squadrons based in HMAS ALBATROSS put Squirrel, Kiowa and Sea King helicopters into the air on several occasions. The Navy support did not end with the aviators and their aircraft. When the four youngsters were rescued they were flown to ALBATROSS, checked over by RAN medics, given RAN overalls to replace their wet clothes and provided with a hot meal and drinks.

"They were in great spirits when they arrived - but glad it was all over" the base medical centre said.

Subject of the search were:- Chris James, 18, his sister Karen, 15, and their friends Alison Robb, 16, and Steven Rowe, 17, all of Wamboin near Queanbeyan. They planned a 48-kilometre walk to Pigeon House Mountain to attain their Queen Scout Award. The teenagers were expected to meet their parents on Saturday, April 29, but failed to emerge from the park. Taking a wrong turn was blamed for them getting lost.

On Monday, May 1, police asked the Navy to help with the aerial search and LCDR Anthony Reyne and LEUT Stephen Dickfos in a Squirrel searched the area for three hours.

By Wednesday, May 3, the four had still not been located and the initial search escalated with many aircraft and nearly 100 ground searchers.

LCDR Reyne and LEUT Marcus Baxter relaunched the helicopter and returned to the mountain. Also dispatched was a Kiowa helicopter from the squadron flown by LEUT Rob Gagnon and LEUT Dickfos. Later in the day LCDR Tanzy Lea, LCDR Terry Tyac (RN), LEUT David Hutchinson, LEUT Phil Payne and LEUT Stuart Harper from 817 Squadron launched Sea King Shark 5.

"Our job was to fly to the command post and then put three six-person search teams into remote areas of the park," LEUT Hutchinson said. "The teams were mixed, SES, firefighters, volunteers. We put one group down into a clearing and winched in a second, but then the weather closed.

"About 4.45pm we heard the four had been found. We flew to the scene followed by the Southcare helicopter. We saw two SES people on the ground and learned the four missing people were making their way to an open area. Because Southcare had a paramedic on board it was decided it was the helicopter to bring the four back to Nowra."

A Navy ambulance was waiting for the Southcare helicopter to arrive and soon had the teenagers in the hands of senior base medic LEUT Meg Roberts and her team.

The medics treated some minor scratches, gave them some RAN overalls and provided a hot meal and drink before, after an hour at the medical centre, the four were driven to Milton where their parents waited.

By Graham Davis