Navy

Royal Navy Pilot Helps Rescue People From 'Truly Horrific' Australia Fires

Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer has been flying up to 10 hours a day on evacuation missions.

A Royal Navy helicopter pilot has helped to rescue people trapped by bushfires in Australia.

Thirty-five year-old Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer, from Great Yarmouth, is on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy's 808 Squadron, flying MRH90 helicopters.

He has been flying evacuation missions for up to 10 hours each day since November.

"The scale of the fires are phenomenal and the devastation is truly horrific," he said.

"At times it seems the entire horizon is on fire with flames up to 50 or 60 feet high."

Over the New Year, Lt Cdr Grimmer's aircraft and crew co-ordinated rescue efforts with the amphibious ship HMAS Choules, attending to people living on the south-eastern tip of the country.

Formerly in UK service as RFA Largs Bay, the ship carried around 1,100 people alongside 117 dogs, four cats, a parakeet and a rabbit from the small town of Mallacoota to Melbourne.

"Watching people – everyone from a baby of two months to an elderly lady in her 90s – get off in Melbourne, relieved, saying 'goodbye', 'thank you' and shaking everyone’s hands was very gratifying, definitely the highlight and made all our efforts seem worthwhile."

Australian bush fires seen from the cockpit of Lt Cdr Grimmer's helicopter (Picture: Royal Navy).

Lt Cdr Grimmer tells the story of rescuing a man on his porch, whose "wife had fled the fire a few days before".

"She had no idea whether he was alive or the house was standing due to no power or communications. We were able to tell her both were safe – that was a wonderful feeling,” he said.

The helicopter pilot said the missions are frequently tinged with great sadness: "I’m an animal lover and seeing the impact on wildlife is heart-breaking – all too often we are seeing dead animals who have succumbed to the fires in fields we are landing in."

Lt Cdr Grimmer has completed 12 years of service in the Royal Navy, including six months in Sierra Leone as part of UK efforts to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014-15.

Cover image: Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer has been flying on rescue sorties since November (Picture: Royal Navy).