Blue Mountains Police Rescue squad marks 50 year anniversary

Fifty years ago they carried bulky, heavy gear, and a small army of police rescue officers would walk in to retrieve an injured person from a remote area.

Today, thanks to helicopters, better equipment and specialised training, it can take as little as a couple of hours to achieve what used to take days.

The type of rescues haven’t changed – there are still injured or lost walkers and injured climbers, but technology and better equipment has given people the confidence to be more adventurous.

“Remote area, multi-day hikes you had to earn the privilege,” said Blue Mountains Police Rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Dallas Atkinson.

“Anyone now can buy $500 of gear [and get out there]. It’s easier to raise the alarm with phones and emergency beacons.” 

Last Friday, the Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad celebrated their 50 year anniversary. Formed on January 31, 1968, the squad was led by the late Sergeant Ernie Sanderson for 20 years, following many years of agitation for a specialised service. But before 1968, police and other emergency services had worked to fill the gap.

The first recorded rescue by police in the Blue Mountains was in 1924, when it took two days to recover the body of a woman who had fallen from Echo Point.

In five decades, 127 officers have been part of the Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad, and there are 18 members of the current crew.

“They do jobs that no-one else can do,” said Blue Mountains Police Superintendent Darryl Jobson.

“They’re cutting people out of mangled wrecks, rescuing people on cliffs on ropes, climbers stranded for whatever reason, long search operations for people lost in the bush, down to a finger in a bathtub drain. Their mantra is ‘we will find a way.’”

But he said police couldn’t do their job without the support of all emergency services.

Blue Mountains Police Rescue officers assisted with major recovery operations such as the Granville rail disaster in 1977 and the 1997 Thredbo landslide. And in 1999 they were there to help at the Glenbrook train crash.

For Sgt Atkinson who has been part of the squad for 11 years, it’s the big searches that have stayed with him the most, such as the search in 2006 for schoolboy David Iredale who tragically died after being separated from his friends on a multi-day hike.

“It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Sgt Atkinson said. “In these types of operations you’re working for the families. You want to have a good outcome but unfortunately that’s not always the case. You work to bring them the closure and heavily invest in that at a professional and humane level.”