Best training for the worst situations

7 May 2024

Two sailors were winched to safety recently, as part of a rare Navy search-and-rescue (SAR) exercise during a Pacific deployment.  

SAR is the response to a distress situation to recover isolated personnel from life-threatening situations.

This may require force elements ranging from a single asset to a complex personnel recovery task force.

816 Squadron Flight 607 tested the life-saving techniques with HMAS Stuart.

Stuart’s embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, Valkyrie, was the rescue asset, along with the ship’s rigid hull inflatable boat and sailors on standby for safety.

Due to the unpredictability and dynamic nature of SAR, it is important the crew, especially aircrewman, stay current, competent and confident in this particular skill set.

Aircrewman are required to hold a 12-month currency for surface swimmer currency training and it is on the individual member to stay fit and ready for the task.

Leading Seaman Cillie Du Plooy took the idea of conducting the SAR exercise to the commanding officer, flight commander and chief petty officer boatswain for approval.

The exercise required both Leading Seaman Du Plooy and Leading Seaman Anthony Hunt to jump out of Valkyrie at 15ft into the ocean, swim to ‘Oscar’ – a life-saving dummy – or a ship’s diver from Stuart and conduct three different rescue lift techniques.

“Once I finally got everyone on side with the idea, I organised a meeting with the navigator, operations officer, medics, divers, boat crew and aircrew to present the plan,” Leading Seaman Du Plooy said.

“We table topped the sequence of events and safety considerations to make sure the exercise ran smoothly.”

Leading Seaman Hunt was glad to make use of a rare training opportunity.

“Rescue swimmer training rarely occurs at sea and is an evolution we would generally conduct back home in NSW,” Leading Seaman Hunt said.

“However, due to the excellent planning from Leading Seaman Du Plooy and the willingness from all the departments involved, we were able to achieve an extremely valuable training outcome for both the flight and Stuart's ship’s company.”

In recent years, the Fleet Air Arm has been tasked for SAR operations during high-risk weather season, floods and fires to provide aid to the civil community.

A real SAR is not a task that necessarily happens often on deployment, however, there are multiple MH-60R Seahawk crews that proudly wear the Sikorsky rescue patch for their extraordinary efforts when the time comes.

Leading Seaman Hunt said SAR is a vital capability for Defence and the community.

“SAR is a role where you are having a direct positive effect on the rescued person’s life for the better,” Leading Seaman Hunt said.

“On the worst day of their life, you are the person that is coming to save their life – it’s a tangible and rewarding act of service.”



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