Of course the Senior at Fitzroy Crossing police station told me that I shouldn’t have been going anywhere near the Gibb Airport when Nick was in some kind of trouble. And of course he knew that telling me such a thing was pointless. But let’s face it when your calls are recorded and paper trails are created, because things have to be recorded when they become official, it’s hardly surprising that Senior Constable Sam Maldon told me to stay away.
I was also told a little more about what Nick was doing our at the airport, an airport that really doesn’t get used much and only has a single dirt runway which even some experienced dirt strip pilots have claimed needs to be treated with caution. It was official work and work that had been passed on to Nick from Fitzroy because they had been too busy when the original call had come in.
The original call had come from Border Control who had received reports that a small Cessna loaded with drugs had landed at the remote airport. Although the reports had seemed legitimate Border Control had not caught any small aircraft on the radars and satellites in the area. Because it was deemed to be low risk and Nick was closest he was sent out to investigate what they assumed was a low risk operation and more than likely nothing.
Obviously they were wrong it was something and I didn’t need to make a point to Sam that Nick wouldn’t have messaged me the way he did if it wasn’t a serious matter. I did however have to explain to him that Nick sending me the message was more than likely because he couldn’t afford either the time, the sound, or the risk of making an actual call.
Before we hung up from each other Sam told me that he would have two men en-route to help Nick with in an hour and another four men headed that way before midnight. I might have, in fact I really did, express my less than elated impression that his time frames weren’t ideal and I got a speech from him about the available man power, other official duties and vehicles. I understood what he was saying and apologised for my outburst, he knew I was concerned and he knew not to be offended by what I said in the heat of the moment.
“Hey Dean?” Sam said from the other end of the phone. I could hear the change in his voice as it went from a serious work voice to one of concern. “You know that area as good, if not better than anyone in the area, including my boys. If the shit really has hit the fan out there which direction is the best for my boys to come from?”
He was right, I did know the area and knew it well and our biggest concern was always going to be the possibility of being seen through the darkness because of how far headlights could be seen in the outback at night.
“Our, I mean your,” the fact that Sam said nothing when he heard my mistake was further proof he knew I wasn’t hanging about home waiting for Nick to arrive home, “biggest problem is headlights in the dark. I recommend coming in from the south east on foot.”
Sam may not have known the exact places I suggested as the conversation continued but I knew he would have a map handy and even as his boys made their way out to the airport he’d be radioing them with information on where best to take control of the situation from based on what I had told him and what he’d gathered from the maps..
He ended the call telling me again not to try and help Nick myself knowing full well that I was going to ignore him, especially since I was every bit of an hour closer to the airport than any of his men were. I know this because his final words were ‘Look after yourself Dean.’ rather than a simple goodbye as he normally would.
There is little doubt that Sam would have preferred me to stay away and had I told him that Matthew was with me I’m sure he’d have insisted, maybe even demanded, I stay away but he wasn’t new to the Outback and he knew how we looked after each other. Truth be told I nearly suggested Matthew stay at home because the situation as Nick’s message suggested seemed to be dangerous and I really didn’t want to put Matthew in danger. I know Matthew wouldn’t have liked the idea and would have protested that if it was dangerous for him it was dangerous for me and I guess in the end that’s why I said nothing and accepted his help.
By the time I had finished my call with Sam at the Fitzroy Police Station Matthew and I were getting ready to turn off the main highway and head north west into the darkness just before the Ord River crossing.
In daylight we’d have had about a forty to forty five minute trip ahead of us but in the darkness it was going to take closer to sixty. As you already know of me I’m not a stupid or risky driver and when it comes to the dirt tracks there was no way, not even with all those bright candles I had on the front of The Beast, that I was going to be travelling much over thirty five kilometres per hour, it just wasn’t worth the risk of damage to my old girl.
“So what are you plans?” Matthew asked as we bounced across several ruts in the soft sandy surface.
Immediately I slowed the Beast down and brought her to a stop, in my haste to reach Nick I had forgotten to air down the tyres when we left the bitumen and with so much sand travelling in our future I was no about to risk going into the darkness any further without taking care of that.
“First and foremost I’m going to air down. After that I’m not sure!” I said as I opened the door of the Beast and climbed out.
Previous Outback Rescue story here.