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Snow search mobilises Falls Creek
On Tuesday 12 July, Falls Creek had one of the biggest storms to impact the village in recent history with snow coming down thick and fast.
By Operations Officer Mark Owens, District 24, based at Falls Creek
During the afternoon while I was out in the village checking on fire hydrants, I was stopped by the owner of the Kilimanjaro Alpine Lodge who informed me a young boy had recently gone missing.
No one had yet called Victoria Police, so I notified the local Police team of Sgt Larry Goldsworthy and Leading S/C Wayne Handley.
Wayne and I completed a detailed search of Kilimanjaro and then started assembling other resort staff and visitors coordinating a search around the neighbouring buildings and streets.
At the same time, Larry set up the Command Post at the Falls Creek Police Station and organised an Emergency Management Team with representatives of Resort Management, Ski Patrol, Ambulance Victoria and the State Emergency Service.
The activation of other agencies at Falls Creek to support the search started very quickly with the use of email, social media and text message services alerting every premises, visitor and staff member on the hill to the missing boy.
The family of the missing boy provided Victoria Police with very detailed information including a very recent photo (taken that day) of their missing son Riley. They also gave relevant details for the search teams as Riley suffers from autism and is a non-verbal communicator.
Multiple teams of people completed a full village search which also expanded to the ski slopes and outer areas of the resort area.
Two Resort Management staff, Callum Brown and Scott Mann, were searching on the lower side of the Bogong High Plains road near the Rock Valley Creek. As they moved along a northerly search pattern, they reached the Waste Treatment Plant and found Riley’s green toboggan nearby.
They also noticed very shallow footprints which were filling very quickly due to continuing snow storm. As they moved further along the creek line, the howling wind dropped for the briefest moment and Scott heard groaning sounds.
Scott heard it again as they continued on and turned around to see Riley huddled under the cover of vegetation sheltering from the storm.
Riley was quickly rescued by the members of Ski Patrol, Victoria Police, SES and Ambulance Victoria. Riley was suffering from hypothermia and was transferred to the local Medical Centre where doctors were awaiting his arrival in order to provide him with the best medical care.
Riley did not need to be transferred for further medical assessment and was released later that evening to his family. The next day, Riley was well enough to attend the media interviews that took place.
The outcome was amazing considering the difficulties facing all of us. Difficulties on the day included intermittent power failures, a massive snow storm, and a search for young boy who could not speak which involved a lot of visitors staying in the village.
In addition, there were the staff and volunteers who had all worked very hard during the day, giving their all to the search.
A debrief was completed by Victoria Police.
Falls Creek is a very small community and even when there could be 7000 visitors in the village, a very dedicated group of staff and volunteers from many agencies, companies, businesses and community groups come together to support emergency operations.
This situation was no different; we all came together regardless of which uniform we wore. The team at Falls Creek collaborated effectively to save young Riley’s life.
In a village environment such as Falls Creek, the social media networks and message services are vital for passing on information quickly and mobilising resources to support an incident. In this case this was vital and it worked extremely well.
History has shown that searches sometimes take a long time to come together and get moving. In this event, that was not the case. and it was very heart-warming to the see the hundreds of people walking around the whole village searching every building and every track.
It also proved the importance of the presence of agencies like Victoria Police, CFA and Ambulance Victoria who provide dedicated staffing to the Alpine Resorts during the winter months (June to October). This ensures emergencies are coordinated and controlled in a quick and safe manner.
The Falls Creek Brigade played a small part in search. As Operations Officer, I supported Victoria Police with searching multiple properties and the using the Thermal Imaging Camera.
Other members of the Brigade were out assisting with the search with encouragement from their employers. Every member of the Brigade played a part in this regardless of whether uniform was worn. Here up at Falls Creek we all pulled together as a community to support ourselves and the visitors that love to come here.
Resort Management Chief Executive Stuart Smythe said it best on email sent later that night to the stakeholders of Falls Creek:
“There is no such thing as luck – it is simply good preparation meeting opportunity.
Well this evening a tremendous team effort, across many agencies saved the life of a young boy. It was intuition and contrary to the above statement also contained an enormous amount of plain old sheer luck.
Well done to all involved, it has been a day that has stretched every possible plan, contingency and protocol.”