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Blue Mountains Tourist : Summer 2008-09
Help from above After the Three Sisters, Scenic World is probably the most recognisable and visited attraction in the Blue Mountains. But how many people know that its Scenic Railway and Scenic Cableway provide not only pleasure but have helped save lives? P hilip Hammon, Managing Director of Scenic World, says that over the 63 years his family has been operating the railway, it has been used many times to assist Police Rescue on after-hours trips to recover walkers from the Jamison Valley. And so has the more recently opened Cableway. Over to Philip … Back in the 1940s and 50s there were no two way radios, and the usual scenario when a walker got injured was for one of the party to walk out and raise the alarm. This was usually after dark – and often when it was misty and wet. The police would ring us, and we would get out of bed and go down to ‘the Scenic’ as our family called it in those days. We’d set up the winder and drive it to lower the search or rescue party into the valley. There being no radios, we would then just have to wait for their return – sometimes many hours later, hopefully with ‘self loading freight’, but sometimes, sadly, only with a ‘package’. As times moved on, two way radios, mobile phones and helicopters have made rescue a much easier operation, but the weather still plays a very important role – mist and wind or rain often restricting helicopter operations. Sometimes helicopters are just not available, so our services are called upon. Usually a ground party has to walk in, firstly to accurately locate the victim and guide the helicopter in, and secondly to prepare the victim for aerial evacuation. We are called upon to transport the walking party into the valley and recover them at the end of the rescue. Nowadays, we can go home and back to bed to await the phone call when the party is ready to come out. A few examples: I was driving the Scenic Railway winch one Sunday afternoon in the 70s when a walker came to the bottom platform and reported to the conductor that a girl had slipped on a rock and had broken her leg. We had a phone next to the driving station so I rang the police and the ambulance (‘ambos’ to us) and initiated a rescue. They arrived, went down during normal summer 2008/9 Just because the Blue Mountains are so close to ‘civilisation’ doesn’t mean you should set out without proper clothing, equipment and common sense. operations and recovered the girl in about an hour, and all was well. An hour later another walker arrived at the bottom station and reported that a girl had fallen on a rock and broken her leg. Naturally this person was very carefully questioned to make sure that it wasn’t a double reporting – but no, another girl had slipped on the same rock and hurt herself! The police took a bit of convincing that they had to do it all again, and this time the rescue ran after hours, and she was brought out in the dark, but not too badly hurt. Another time, around 4.30pm, a very agitated tour bus driver reported that two of his female Japanese passengers had not returned at the prescribed hour. Another of his passengers said they had seen them walking along the bush track toward the Ruined Castle. This was before the days of the Cableway and the boardwalk. So our duty manager started off walking after them. He crossed the Landslide without locating them, calling out as he went, and had to make the decision when he got the bottom of the Golden Stairs, whether they had gone up the stairs or kept to the Pass. Fortunately for them, he kept on the pass and caught up with them at about 6pm. By now it was getting dark and the girls were not exactly dressed for bushwalking in winter, with light clothes and flip-flop shoes. With no radios or mobile phones, we just had to wait back in the winch room for him to turn up, which he did eventually in a taxi! He had walked them up the Golden Stairs and, when he got to the top, there was a taxi dropping off some serious hikers. So the party was reunited, which made for a very happy coach driver, and a very cranky load of passengers who had had to wait all this time. The girls said that they just kept walking because they thought that the track would bring them back to where they had started! Well it would have, if they had walked for four days, around the Jamison Valley, up Kedumba Pass, and back along the Kings Tableland! Not a rescue, but a good story. A 94-year-old Japanese man got separated from his party at the bottom of the railway. He had walked towards Katoomba Falls. We sent one of our staff up the Furber Stairs towards the Falls and another one down from the top. They found him about halfway up and accompanied him to the top. He said that it was “very tough” – but he made it, which says a lot for eating rice and drinking sake! Then there was an evening in 2005, about 6pm as I recall. We had a call from police who had received a Triple Zero call from Adelaide from the mother of a couple who were at the bottom of the Cableway. Apparently they didn’t know what else to do so they called their Mum and she raised the alarm. It seemed like a simple retrieval, so my dog and I set off for a night time trip on the Cableway. When we get to the bottom station there was nobody there. A few loud ‘coo-ees’ and a voice was heard from up on the walking track. So we walked back around the boardwalk and then around the bush track, with our little head torch going to find not two but seven people! The two who had phoned home had heard voices up the track and gone to investigate. They found two Japanese people, who told them there were more people coming. Eventually another three Japanese people turned up. They spoke no English and had to be persuaded to come with these people who they didn’t know and who apparently thought they were being kidnapped! In the end, we recovered seven people, five of whom didn’t even know they were lost. While these tales seem funny now, it pays to remember that the Blue Mountains include the most accessible wilderness area in the world – but just because they are so close to ‘civilisation’ doesn’t mean you should set out without proper clothing, equipment and common sense. www.bluemountainstouristnewspaper.com.au 29