2 January 2024

Humble hero: Magoo plays it down, despite lifesaving feats

| Cape York Weekly
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Lakeland mechanic Magoo has put his chopper licence to good use, rescuing stranded residents from rooftops, dropping medicine and doing welfare checks across flood-locked areas.

He baulks at the title, but for the 20-odd people plucked from rising floodwater in a tiny helicopter, Lakeland mechanic Magoo is a true Aussie hero.

In the wake of Cyclone Jasper, floodwater rose to levels not seen in this lifetime, catching locals and officials by surprise, with many scrambling to roofs and trees as their homes were inundated or washed away.

Among those trapped were Balnggarrawarra rangers Bulla McIvor and Larry Banning, who sheltered on the roof of the ranger base at Melsonby with their dogs as floodwater rose on Sunday.

“It was about 2.30am Saturday morning when we got up on the roof,” Larry said.

“We tried to make a raft, but the dogs were panicking and trying to jump on and it wouldn’t hold our weight.

“Oh yeah, we were scared.”

With the men trapped and water rapidly rising, friends and family worked desperately with emergency services to find a rescue plan.

That plan was Olive Vale Pastoral’s tiny door-less R22 mustering chopper and experienced Lakeland pilot Magoo.

The only problem?

Magoo was several flooded rivers away.

“It was a drama because the helicopter was at Fairview Station and I was at Lakeland, so we had to boat across and walk and swim across another creek,” Magoo said.

“But I wasn’t going to let them drown; they would have got washed off the roof and it would have been see ya later.”

Magoo had to brave croc-populated floodwater to get to the helicopter, which was situated at Fairview Station.

After a two-hour trip through the croc-filled water with Olive Vale Pastoral’s Scott Ryan by his side on croc-watch, Magoo said it was a relatively uneventful flight to collect the stranded men.

Scott said the pair were wading in neck-deep water holding the gun over their heads, keeping an eye out for crocs, but it was a risk they were willing to take.

“Everybody had been sitting there doing nothing, and I said no, we’re doers,” Scott said.

Magoo said the risk of flying the helicopter in the adverse weather conditions was low.

“I didn’t fly in rain that heavy I couldn’t see, there was nothing dangerous or risky,” he said.

“The weather wears the tail rotor blades faster, but the amount of money they’re worth, somebody’s life, is it not worth that?”

Scott added: “If I have my way Magoo is going to get a medal, he was the only one to put his hand up and say I’m going to get there, everybody else was talking about it but doing nothing.

“I had 100 per cent confidence in him, he’s very brave and more capable of flying a machine than anybody else I know, his mechanical knowledge and understanding of what the machine can do is second to none.”

Waiting as patiently as they could to be rescued, Bulla said the rangers were taking turns sleeping while the other kept croc watch, but the appearance of Magoo was like an angel.

“I was just about to crash out, tired and hungry, and I heard the chopper and opened my eyes and said ‘thank God, someone is coming to get us’,” he said.

“It was a relief to be out of there but sad also leaving our dogs behind, they’re part of our family.”

The Melsonby Ranger Station was severely flooded, requiring an emergency response to save two lives.

Sitting safely at Normanby Station, Larry said he had “a little cry” for the dogs as well – family had already attempted to boat through the floodwaters to rescue them.

“It was emotional leaving the animals, but we’re going to try again tomorrow (Thursday) and hope the water isn’t flowing so fast. I’d like to thank Olive Vale Pastoral, Magoo, Rhett, Cliffy, Porky and Sam and Tegan – without those guys we would have had no chance.”

There was no rest for the hero pilot, as police kept Magoo busy with a rescue the following day from the historical Lion’s Den Hotel at Helenvale, as floodwater engulfed the popular pub and neighbouring homes.

Magoo snatched 16 people one-by-one from the rapidly disappearing roof and ferried them to safety at nearby Rossville Retreat, where residents Dave and Sandy Bates opened their home to evacuees.

He was joined on Tuesday by fellow civilian pilots and their choppers from Lakeland, Mt Mulligan Station, Emerald and Thursday Island, and the group continued to transport people and medicine and carry out welfare checks.

Scott summed up how the community is feeling about the humble hero chopper pilot Magoo, who turned down interviews with multiple media outlets while talking to Cape York Weekly.

“For my family, he’s a celebrity, we think he’s just the best.”

You can see Magoo in his helicopter in the background, airlifting people off the roof of the Lion’s Den Hotel at Helenvale.

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