Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Chopper Crewman Honoured

Following 2018 Shark Attack Rescue

The rescue officer who risked his life by jumping into the water, just metres from a recent shark attack, in order to save the life of the victim, has just been honoured with an Australian Bravery Decoration.

RACQ CQ Rescue rescue crew officer Ben McCauley said he was “just doing his job” when he attended a series of three shark attacks in Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island in 2018.

On that fateful year, the whole community was rocked when the previously safe harbour saw a spate of attacks within a couple of months.

Justine Barwick almost lost her leg when a shark attacked while she was swimming.

The following day, twelve-year-old Melbourne girl Hannah Papps’ leg was amputated above the knee after another shark attack.

Then, less than two months later 32-year-old Melbourne doctor Daniel Christidis sadly lost his life in a third shark attack.

Earlier this week Ben McCauley was commended by The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley for his role in saving Justine Barwick.

Ben, who had only been with RACQ CQ Rescue for six months, attended the scene where Justine was found aboard a 39-foot yacht bleeding profusely with barely a pulse after being bitten while swimming.

“The shark had taken a huge chunk out of her inside leg, and she was bleeding out,” Ben explained.

“Her husband and friend on board had quickly packed the gaping wound to help stem the haemorrhaging and this undoubtedly saved her life.”

Unable to land due to high tides and inhibited by more than 30 other vessels anchored in the harbour, the rescue helicopter crew made the difficult decision to winch Justine out of an inflatable dinghy.

Ben was winched down out of the helicopter into the water – where the shark had been less than an hour earlier - and had to swim to a dinghy and climb on board.

Justine was secured into an ARV (Air Rescue Vest) and winched up with the rescue crewman into the helicopter within 20 minutes to be treated by a Critical Care Paramedic.

"To be honest I didn’t think about the shark in the water that day. When you're on the job, you're on the job; I had 100 other things that I was concentrating on other than the shark," said Ben.

Justine was taken to Mackay Base Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery before being sent to Brisbane the next day for an 18-hour vascular surgery to reconstruct her leg.

Five years after the incident which changed her life, Justine said she was very excited to hear of the news of Ben’s commendation.

“Ben was part of an extraordinary effort on that day,” she said.

“His contribution was fundamental to my survival. His bravery during my retrieval was amazing. It would seem to me that had Ben not taken advantage of what was very probably his only opportunity to reach me that the outcome for me would have been very different.

“Myself, my family and friends are all in debt to everyone who assisted in my journey through retrieval, survival, recovery, and rehab – but had I not been winched into that helicopter when I was, I doubt that I would have made it. Thank you to Ben and all at RACQ CQ Rescue. You are lifesavers.”

RACQ CQ Rescue rescue crew officer Ben McCauley with shark attack victim Justine Barwick and fellow crew member Kevin Berry. Photo supplied

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