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McArthur River Mining


Ask anyone at McArthur River Mining to describe their work and they’ll tell you that no two days are the same

For the operation’s Emergency Response Team this couldn’t be truer.

McArthur River Mining’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) is made up of 40 trained men and women in charge of providing emergency response and rescue for the remote mine site and wider community.

The members are part of the team in addition to their normal roles on site – ranging from environmental scientists and geologists to truck operators, engineers and tradies.

Not unlike typical emergency services, ERT members are trained to handle a range of emergency scenarios from fires, cyclones, snake bites, rope rescues and road accidents. The responsibility of being a member of the team is not lost on champion ERT Captain Mitchell Wilson.

“Twelve hundred people rely on us knowing what to do in those critical first minutes of an emergency,” Mitchell says.

“The mine site is remote and back up is hours away if we need it.

“We train for every possible scenario to make sure we are ready to respond in the event of any emergency.”

Over the years, the team has learnt to respond to a number of situations unique to northern Australia. 

On Australia Day 2018, the team received a call from Borroloola police about two men who were stranded on the top of their car in the middle of the swollen McArthur River.

Closest to the scene, the ERT was tasked with rescuing the men. With nightfall approaching and the river rising by the second, it was a race against the clock to get the men to safety.

The Tasmanian tourists had been stranded for 24 hours after trying to cross the crocodile-infested river in their hire car before falling victim to the river’s notoriously strong current and torrential wet season rain.

After assessing the scene, it was decided the only way the pair could be rescued was by air.

North Australia Helicopter’s Matthew Irving and ERT veteran John Waerea were called up to perform the daring rescue.

Following a quick practice run on the side of the highway, it was decided that Matthew would position the helicopter one metre above the car, with John retrieving the men one by one, something neither John nor Matthew had attempted before.

With John dangling from the air and Matthew skillfully hovering over the car, the men were rescued in record time, making it back to McArthur River Mine in time for a hot dinner.

Once on dry land the men admitted they thought their time was up and praised the efforts of Matthew, John and the McArthur River Mining ERT.

Matthew and John were later awarded Bravery Medals by the Governor-General for the lifesaving rescue.

In March 2019, the team were again put through their paces, helping to evacuate hundreds of local people to safety as Cyclone Trevor made its way across the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The mammoth effort was the Territory’s largest evacuation since Cyclone Tracy.

The ERT, along with the Australian Defence Force and local authorities, ferried people from Borroloola to the McArthur River Mine airport to be evacuated to safety in Darwin on a Hercules C130J.

“We were up against the clock to get hundreds of people from town to site before the roads flooded and winds ramped up,” Mitchell says.

“It’s hard to forget the sheer number of people we had to get out in such a short period of time in really hard conditions.”

In the days following the cyclone, the team was stationed in Borroloola to help the town prepare for residents to return.

“The amount of damage to people’s houses in town was unbelievable, but we hung around to help as much as we could to give people the best chance of returning to normality,” Mitchell says.

“They were long hard days but it was really rewarding work.”

More recently, seven of the ERT’s finest competed at the Northern Australian Emergency Response Competition in Darwin.

The competition gives the opportunity for mine rescue teams in Northern Australia to test their skills in the field and see how they stack up against their counterparts at different mine sites in the north.

The teams faced scenarios in firefighting, first aid, rescue from heights, road accident rescue and underground search and rescue to simulate real life emergency events. 

The McArthur River Mining ERT trained hard in the lead-up to the competition and it paid off – the team walked away with nine first place awards, including best overall team, best captain, best medic and best individual skills.

For Mitchell, the win pales in comparison with the day-to-day satisfaction he gets from being a part of the team. 

“At the end of the day, we are all really good mates and know that when we get the call up we can rely on each other to get the best possible outcome for whoever is at risk.”  

“Being in the team is an experience of a lifetime.”