- Stephen, Kerry
- History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Creswell, HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Voyager II
- June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At one stage as survivors were being pulled up over the port side, I saw the body of an officer about 25 metres away on the starboard side, with his head underwater. It was not possible to recover this body whilst survivors were being lifted inboard, but as soon as they were all inboard the boat was turned to starboard and a search was made for the body, but without success. It was not known who the officer was, as the rank on his shoulder boards was not visible.
By this time Air Nymph was about 50 metres from the stern of Voyager. Lights could be seen flashing on the stern section in the gentle swell and I decided to go alongside the stern to carry out a search for anyone still onboard. However, a Chief Ordnance Artificer from the Voyager, who had been recovered from the water, said he was the last to leave the stern section and assured me there was no-one else onboard. He said the flashing lights were from the emergency lanterns which were still on, and the gentle swell made it appear as if they were being moved. At the same time huge bubbles of air were breaking on the surface by the funnel and it was feared that the boilers were in danger of exploding. In view of the information given by the Chief OA, I considered that to put Air Nymph alongside the stern section of Voyager would have unnecessarily endangered the lives of both the recovered Voyager survivors and the crew of Air Nymph, if the boilers were to explode, or the stern suddenly sank. I therefore reluctantly decided that it was a higher priority to recover other survivors who could be seen in nearby life rafts and who would also be at risk if the stern of Voyager sank.
When Air Nymph came alongside one life raft, we saw it contained a critically injured Petty Officer. Two of the crew of Air Nymph jumped into the life raft and were passed a stretcher to lift the Petty Officer into the SAR. This was extremely difficult as he had a crushed chest and severely lacerated head and his chest injuries made it impossible to secure him into the stretcher. With the movement of the life raft in the swell, transferring him into Air Nymph was fraught with danger as he could slip off the stretcher into the sea. Fortunately he was successfully lifted on board, although it was considered extremely unlikely that he would survive his shocking injuries.
Voyager survivors were taken out from several other life rafts and it was noted that some of the rafts were only partially inflated. It was not known whether this was a result of damage or failure to properly inflate. Many of the survivors were suffering shock, severe lacerations and broken limbs and required medical treatment by the Surgeon Lieutenant. Most were covered in oil from their immersion in water and traumatised from the collision.
A nearby helicopter was seen shining its searchlight into the water below, but nothing could be seen because of the spray thrown up. So Air Nymph, with Petty Officer Budd on the bow, made her way into the spray under the searchlight, searching for anyone in the water below the helicopter. Unfortunately nothing could be seen and shortly afterwards the helicopter switched off its light and moved away. By this time, as over 30 survivors were crowded onboard Air Nymph, and no others could be seen in the water, I decided to go alongside Melbourne, which was still about 500 metres away, and transfer them.
We proceeded to the starboard side of Melbourne, where a cargo net had been put over the side to allow survivors to climb to the deck. This was again fraught with danger as the low swell caused Air Nymph to rise up under the flight deck sponsons, bending the main whip aerial like a bow and snapping off one of the radio aerials on the top of the mast. Since many of the rescued survivors were injured and traumatised, and in no condition to climb up a cargo net, I advised Melbourne that it was too risky to disembark them. Instead I would proceed at maximum speed back to Creswell to disembark them there, and then return to the collision scene. This was agreed and we cast off and immediately headed for Creswell.