It was a grey, wet day in Canberra and a day of mixed emotions for Warrant Officer Benjamin Sime as he climbed out of the Royal Australian Navy’s last operational Seahawk “Bravo” helicopter for the final time.
The helicopter, affectionately known as Christine, has been donated to the Australian War Memorial, and Sime and the crew completed a final flypast over the Memorial and Parliament House before the official handover ceremony.
“I don’t want to try and say it wasn’t emotional, because it was actually quite emotional bringing it in for the last time,” Sime said.
“I’m very passionate about the Seahawk. I’ve been flying in the Seahawk for approaching 18 years … It’s an unbelievable machine. It’s so reliable and the best thing about the Seahawk is that every time you get in it you feel safe – you know you’re coming home.”
For Sime, Seahawk 872 is particularly significant. On 24 April 2004, he was serving as a sensor operator on the Seahawk in the Persian Gulf. The helicopter was operating off HMAS Stuart when terrorists in fishing dhows launched a series of attacks against Iraqi oil terminals. One of these dhows, packed with explosives, detonated when a boat from USS Firebolt drew alongside to investigate. Three American sailors were killed and four were seriously wounded in the explosion.
Following several unsuccessful attempts to rescue survivors, Sime leapt from the aircraft in his flying gear to help a badly wounded sailor.
“He had a severe head laceration … he was struggling to stay afloat,” Sime said. “He actually let go of the [rescue] strop at this point and then lay face down in the water and it was evident he was unconscious …
“At that point I jumped from the aircraft to try and render assistance … [I] turned him over the best I could and tried to render some sort of first aid in the water. At this point in time it was night so … it was a little bit challenging. At the end of the day all I could do at this point was just support him as best I could and keep his head out of the water.
“We managed to get the casualty onto … the patrol boat and that’s where we continued to try and do CPR. It was … pretty chaotic at that point – there were bodies being recovered from the water … and there were a lot of people in distress clearly and it was very hectic.”
During the incident, two further attacks were launched against oil terminals to the south. Sime continued to help the American sailors and was later awarded the Medal for Gallantry in recognition of his bravery.
“I don’t want to use the cliché of ‘you’re relying on your training and you rely on the people around you,’ but that is really the case,” Sime said. “We all worked together extremely well as a crew and we just went about doing what we had to do. In all truthfulness, no, I wasn’t [scared] …… it was just one of those circumstances where you just do what you have to do and worry about it later.”
Sime managed to get the injured sailor to the patrol boat and then to a doctor on HMAS Stuart, but the sailor died of his wounds.
“In later years obviously you still think about it,” Sime said. “It happened on the 24th and it went over into the 25th, so obviously being Anzac Day, every year when Anzac Day comes around for us, and for me personally, it just has my own personal spin on what it means for me.”