‘Angels’: How aircrew heroes saved families from firestorm

 

Lindsay Tytherleigh and his son Kaylem were preparing to protect their country motel in the middle of Saturday's catastrophic firestorm when in moments, the situation changed.

They could see the flames of the Tianjara blaze on the state's south coast blowing closer with the westerly winds but they thought they were safe.

Mr Tytherleigh, 52, said the Royal Australian Navy helicopter from the 808 Squadron with Leading Seaman Aircrewman Ben Nixon at the controls flew over, hovered above their property at Mount Conjola, then flew over the fire front and returned to land in the paddock near the dams at Sinclairs Country Retreat.

Father and son raced over the chopper on their quad bikes when Rural Fire Service firefighter Dwyane Graham jumped down.

Safe... The Tytherleigh family in Nowra after the airlift. Picture: ADF
Safe... The Tytherleigh family in Nowra after the airlift. Picture: ADF

 

 

Frank Delaney and Warren Usher are helped from a military support helicopter. Picture: ADF
Frank Delaney and Warren Usher are helped from a military support helicopter. Picture: ADF

 

RAN Leading Seaman Ben Nixon assesses the Tianjara Fire. Picture: ADF
RAN Leading Seaman Ben Nixon assesses the Tianjara Fire. Picture: ADF

"He said are you aware that your property is in the direct fire path,' Mr Tytherleigh said.

The road into Lake Conjola was closed as was the nearby Princes Highway.

"We were fire prepared with water tanks full but they had flown over the escarpment and they could see the whole thing," he said.

"It was 2.30 in the afternoon but it was dark. It was eerie and spooky.

"They said it was our choice but in their opinion, we should go with them then.

"It happened so quickly we really didn't have a chance to think about it."

 

Their rescuers asked for the phone numbers of the Tytherleigh's neighbours, Ian and Kim, and advised them to get on the helicopter as well.

"They were outstanding, they were so professional," Mr Tytherleigh said today.

"I have to take my hat off to those guys. I'm so happy to pay my taxes, they were angels.

"It was scary but it was a once in a lifetime experience. It just happened so quickly."

The two families were airlifted to HMAS Albatross at nearby Nowra where there were refreshments and a selection of sandwiches. Accommodation had been arranged for them at a local motel.

'I can't praise them enough," Mr Tytherleigh said.

 

Firestorm... The Grose Valley fire in the Blue Mountains. Picture: ADF
Firestorm... The Grose Valley fire in the Blue Mountains. Picture: ADF

His wife Ulla and another neighbour had left that morning to drive up to another of the family's motels at Ulladulla and at 10pm on Saturday she picked them up at Nowra when the highway had opened.

When they got back to Sinclairs Country Retreat that night, not only was the property saved but some guests had checked themselves in. The southerly buster had sent the flames back onto themselves.

"We were letting people cancel if they felt uncomfortable," Mr Tytherleigh said.

Today he could see the Tianjara fire still burning to their west and in front is the blaze from the Sussex Inlet.

Yalwal local Frank Usher was helping his son Matthew hitch up Matthew's popup caravan to get it out of the path of the fire on Saturday afternoon when he dropped his torch.

"It was pretty hairy, it was black. I felt like I was doing the work blindfolded," Mr Usher said today.

"I had a torch because it was so dark.

"I was at the back of the caravan and I knocked it on a gas bottle and dropped it and it shone into the air. I think that is when the helicopter saw us."

The Grose Valley fire in the Blue Mountains. Picture: ADF
The Grose Valley fire in the Blue Mountains. Picture: ADF

The 808 Squadron MRH90 Military Support Helicopter from HMAS Albatross in Nowra had been out evacuating residents from Fishermans Paradise and North Sassafras on the state's south coast from the massive Tianjara blaze.

"I could see the fire but I thought we would be OK," Mr Usher said.

"They landed and said we have got to get you out. I said I was going to follow my son."

He said the chopper airlifted himself and Frank Delaney, 80, who lives with him.

"It was pretty scary," Mr Usher said.

Back at his home today, he said he would like to thank the helicopter crew.