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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25685


Mr Price asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 6 February 2001:

(1) Further to the answer to question No 1782 (Hansard, 12 October 2000, page 21551), have any of the families written to the Chief of Navy concerning the awarding of bravery medals and awards arising from the WESTRALIA tragedy; if so, how many.

(2) Who were awarded bravery medals and awards for the WESTRALIA tragedy and what was the citation.

(3) Did Navy make a submission for an award or medal associated with the WESTRALIA tragedy that was not granted.


Mr Reith (Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Only Mr Meek has written to the Chief of Navy concerning the award of bravery medals and awards arising from the HMAS WESTRALIA tragedy.

(2) The recipients of bravery awards and medals and citations are as follows:

CONSPICUOUS SERVICE AWARDS

Awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross:

Warrant Officer Colin Bottomley

For outstanding achievement as the Deputy Marine Engineer Officer conducting fire fighting operations and damage control on HMAS WESTRALIA during a major fire in the Main Machinery Space on 5 May 1998.

Warrant Officer Bottomley played a crucial role in the fire fighting effort that saved the ship following a major fire in the Main Machinery Space. He displayed high levels of professional knowledge and exceptional leadership to support the technical aspects of fire fighting operations. After the onset of the fire, he assisted to safety another crew member who had collapsed from smoke inhalation before reaching the door of the engineer's workshop. Warrant Officer Bottomley's initiative and calmness under pressure undoubtedly saved his colleague's life.

Commander Alan Johnston

For outstanding achievement as the Commanding officer of HMAS STIRLING during the emergency response and shore-based support following a fire aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

Commander Johnston achieved consistently outstanding results throughout a most testing and challenging period. He made himself a focal point for support and contributed significantly to the Navy's ability to recover the situation and to minimise further harm to the people affected by the disaster.

AUSTRALIAN BRAVERY DECORATIONS

Awarded the Bravery Medal:

The late Able Seaman Phillip Carroll

For bravery in hazardous circumstances, thereby losing his life, following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

When the fire erupted, Able Seaman Carroll, who was on duty as a watchkeeper in the engine room, immediately began fighting the fire with an extinguisher. As the fire intensified, Able Seaman Carroll, who was closest to the exit, told other personnel to evacuate and assisted the escape of his shipmates. Despite the intense heat, fumes and poor visibility, he elected to remain behind to attempt to locate missing colleagues. Able Seaman Carroll was eventually overcome by the thick smoke and perished in the fire.

By his actions, Able Seaman Carroll displayed considerable bravery.

(Received by his father, John Carroll)

Chief Petty Officer Graeme Hollis

For bravery in hazardous circumstances following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

Chief Petty Officer Hollis was on duty as a watchkeeper when he detected a fuel leak from one of the ship's engines. He immediately reported the leak and began attending to the problem when a fireball erupted, extending sideways through the Main Machinery Space. Chief Petty Officer Hollis ran aft down the starboard side of the middle plates to fetch the trolley-mounted fire extinguisher, returned to the source of fire and attempted to extinguish the flames. Chief Petty Officer Hollis was fighting the fire when a second fireball erupted, followed by further fireballs. With the fire extinguisher nearly empty and the blaze out of control, Chief Petty Officer Hollis attempted to evacuate by the port side ladder which was by now his only means of escape. As he climbed the ladder, the heat of the rails caused the skin on his hands to melt. Visibility was zero and Chief Petty Officer Hollis could not see the exit door. At this point, overcome by fumes, he collapsed and was pulled to safety by a colleague.

By his actions, Chief Petty Officer Hollis displayed considerable bravery.

The late Petty Officer Shaun Smith

For bravery in hazardous circumstances, thereby losing his life, following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

Immediately the fire erupted, Petty Officer Smith, on duty as assistant engineer in the engine room, went to the middle plates to assist in fighting the fire. As the fire intensified with concomitant extreme heat, overwhelming fumes and poor visibility, rather than escaping himself, Petty Officer Smith remained behind to assist in the evacuation of others, a decision that was ultimately to cost him his life.

By his actions, Petty Officer Smith displayed considerable bravery.

(Received by his father, Brian Smith)

Awarded the Group Citation for Bravery:

Hose Team 1

Leading Seaman Jonathan Daly

Lieutenant Sue Johnson

Able Seaman Jay Lindley

Able Seaman Luke Miskiewicz

Able Seaman Michael Smith

For their group actions following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

When Hose Team 1, who were aware that personnel were still unaccounted for, entered the fire via the fridge flat they confronted zero visibility and intense heat. Despite wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus, the heat in the metal plates melted the soles of their footwear and, in some cases, the plastic on their breathing apparatus. Carrying a thermal-imaging camera to locate the main sources of fire, the team first fought the fire from the top of the fridge flat. One of the team descended the ladder and attempted to establish a waterwall but was forced back by the flames and intense heat. The team continued to fight the fire but were eventually forced to retreat to safety. When automatic drenching with carbon dioxide failed to quench the fire and after another hose team had been forced to exit, Hose Team 1 re-entered the Main Machinery Space. They then fought the fire from the top plates area, trying to avoid tripping over the hoses in poor visibility. Progressing down the ladder, they discovered the body of a shipmate on the middle plates and, shortly afterwards, discovered two more bodies.

Hose Team 1 re-entered the Main Machinery Space after the fire was extinguished to ensure the fire did not re-ignite.

Hose Team 2

Leading Seaman Cindy Durnan

Able Seaman Darrin Hunter

Leading Seaman Trevor Mitchell

Able Seaman Chad Morris

Able Seaman Warwick Noles

For their group actions following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

Aware that personnel were still unaccounted for and that temperatures inside the engine room were continuing to increase, Hose Team 2 entered the Main Machinery Space via the fridge flat. The team encountered zero visibility and intense heat. Despite indications that they were surrounded by hot spots, the team chose to descend the ladder to the top plates area. They were forced to untangle hoses and then began cooling oil drums and directing foam over the main engines. As the team fought the fire, their boots stuck to the hot metal plates and melting plastic from light fittings dripped down upon them. Despite wearing protective clothing, the intense heat forced them to hose each other repeatedly to reduce their body temperatures in order for them to continue to fight the fire.

Hose Team 2 only retreated from the Main Machinery Space after their air supplies became too low to continue.

Hose Team 3

Leading Seaman James Cain

Leading Seaman Clem Croasdale

Leading Seaman Chris Elliott

Petty Officer Craig Mackinnon

Able Seaman Nicole Williams

For their group actions following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

Hose Team 3, aware that personnel were unaccounted for, entered the Main Machinery Space via the fridge flat. Prior to entering, the team had been informed of the dangerous conditions they would confront. As the team descended to the top plates area they discovered the body of a shipmate. The team, in poor visibility, followed the hoses until they located the nozzles and then commenced fighting the fire. Hose Team 3 remained in the treacherous conditions to fight the fire until their air supplies became too low and they were then relieved by another team.

Hose Team 3 re-entered the Main Machinery Space after the fire was extinguished to ensure that the fire did not re-ignite.

Main Machinery Space

The late Able Seaman Phillip Carroll

(Received by his father, John Carroll)

Petty Officer Raymond Francis

Chief Petty Officer Graeme Hollis

The late Leading Seaman Bradley Meek

(Received by his father, Vic Meek)

The Late Midshipman Megan Pelly

(Received by her father, Lyndon Pelly)

Leading Seaman Lee Smith

The late Petty Officer Shaun Smith

(Received by his father, Brian Smith)

Lieutenant Dale Walters

For their group actions following the outbreak of fire in the Main Machinery Space aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998.

This group of personnel, who were in the Main Machinery Space when the fire began, immediately seized fire fighting equipment and began laying out hoses in an attempt to fight the fire. By doing so, they placed the safety of their fellow shipmates above their own. As the fire intensified, conditions rapidly deteriorated with repeated fireballs, extreme heat and billowing black smoke. Despite visibility being reduced to zero, individuals within the group attempted to locate missing colleagues and also assisted others to climb escape ladders to safety. Unfortunately, in doing so, four of the group were overcome by the smoke and perished in the fire.

AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE COMMENDATIONS

Awarded the Chief of Defence Force Commendation:

Leading Seaman James Cain

As the leader of Hose Team 3, Leading Seaman Cain entered the Main Machinery Space to fight the fire. Whilst in the area of the middle plates, he discovered the body of one of the deceased members. Despite the shock of this discovery, he continued to motivate his team and to provide reassurance. The actions of his team were inspirational and contributed significantly to reducing further damage to HMAS WESTRALIA.

Leading Seaman Jonathan Daly

As the leader of Hose Team 1, Leading Seaman Daly entered the Main Machinery Space where the fire was raging. Although the initial courageous efforts of his team to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, he later re-entered the area and continued to fight the fire. He subsequently located and recovered the bodies of three of the deceased members. His outstanding professionalism, bravery, dedication and determination deserve the highest praise and set a fine example for others.

Chief Petty Officer Gary Jenkins

As the Officer-in-Charge of the After Damage Control Party, Chief Petty Officer Jenkins displayed high levels of professional knowledge and exceptional leadership to direct the hose teams fighting the fire and to sustain their efforts despite the extreme heat and poor visibility. His exceptional commitment and professional competence reflect great credit on himself and his actions are in the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy.

The late Leading Seaman Bradley Meek

Leading Seaman Bradley Meek is commended for his outstanding actions in responding to the fire aboard HMAS WESTRALIA on 5 May 1998, and assisting in the evacuation of personnel from the Main Machinery Space. Regrettably, Leading Seaman Meek perished in the fire.

(Received by his father, Vic Meek)

Leading Seaman Trevor Mitchell

As the leader of Hose Team 2, Leading Seaman Mitchell led the team into the Main Machinery Space where intense smoke resulted in zero visibility. Using a thermal-imaging device he was able to confirm hot spots. Despite the threatening conditions in which boots were sticking to the metal plates and molten plastic was dripping from overhead lights, he led his team to the highest vantage point to direct foam over the hot spots. His outstanding professionalism, bravery and dedication reflect great credit on himself and the Royal Australian Navy.

Awarded the Chief of Navy Commendation:

Lieutenant Ailene Eggerling

On her transfer to HMAS WESTRALIA to assist with the medical treatment of personnel injured in the fire, Lieutenant Eggerling rapidly adapted to the complex and confused situation and integrated smoothly with the rescuers to provide comprehensive and effective care for the injured personnel. Once the fire had been extinguished, she displayed extreme determination and tenacity when required to enter the smoke-filled Main Machinery Space to aid with the identification of personnel overcome by smoke and assist in their removal. Her outstanding professionalism and dedication reflect the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy.

Leading Seaman Andrea Page

As a member of the Emergency Team aboard HMAS WESTRALIA, Leading Seaman Page was responsible for the medical treatment of personnel injured when the fire occurred in the Main Machinery Space.

Her initiative and professional knowledge enabled her to provide a high level of effective medical treatment and follow-on support. Her professionalism and dedication set a fine example and reflect great credit on herself and the Royal Australian Navy.

Petty Officer Stephen Plant

Petty Officer Plant's knowledge and exceptional leadership contributed significantly to the administration of medical treatment and direction of the Medical Emergency Teams to assist casualties injured in the fire. There was considerable potential for the number of casualties and fatalities to overwhelm the ship's medical organisation but his professionalism, decisive judgements and attention ensured that casualties were treated swiftly and in the appropriate priority. His outstanding dedication and commitment reflect the finest traditions of the Royal Australian Navy.

(3) Based on the likely actions of Leading Seaman Meek, derived from glimpses by shipmates, the location of his body, and the favourable comment of the BOI, Navy submitted a nomination for a bravery award to the Australian Bravery Decorations Council.

Subsequently, the Chief of the Defence Force recognised Leading Seaman Meek's outstanding actions through the award a Chief of Defence Force Commendation; the highest commendation available to a service member outside the Australian honours and awards system.