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'Truly horrific' - Norfolk pilot saving people trapped in Australian wildfires

PUBLISHED: 13:56 10 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:18 10 January 2020

Royal Navy exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer with a Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter onboard HMAS Choules during Operation Bushfire Assist. Picture: POIS Helen Frank.

Royal Navy exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer with a Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter onboard HMAS Choules during Operation Bushfire Assist. Picture: POIS Helen Frank.

© Commonwealth of Australia

A Royal Navy helicopter pilot from Great Yarmouth has helped evacuate people trapped by the devastating wildfires in Australia.

Royal Australian Navy Pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer, RN, in an 808 Squadron MRH90 Taipan Military Support Helicopter over the Grose Valley bushfire in the Blue Mountains National Park. Picture: CPOA Brett Kennedy.Royal Australian Navy Pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer, RN, in an 808 Squadron MRH90 Taipan Military Support Helicopter over the Grose Valley bushfire in the Blue Mountains National Park. Picture: CPOA Brett Kennedy.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer, who is on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy, has been flying rescue missions for the last two months and up to ten hours a day.

The unprecedented fire crisis in south-east Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and shrouded major cities in smoke.

The 35-year-old pilot, who has been in the Royal Navy for 12 years, described the devastation as "truly horrific" and said it is "heart-breaking" to see the impact of the blazes on wildlife.

He said: "The scale of the fires are phenomenal and the devastation is truly horrific.

Royal Navy exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer with an MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter in fire-stricken NSW. Picture: LSIS Shane Cameron.Royal Navy exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer with an MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter in fire-stricken NSW. Picture: LSIS Shane Cameron.

"At times it seems the entire horizon is on fire with flames up to 50 or 60 feet high.

"I'm an animal lover and seeing the impact on wildlife is heart-breaking - all too often we are seeing dead animals who have succumbed to the fires in fields we are landing in."

Over the new year, Lt Cdr Grimmer's aircraft joined the HMAS Choules landing ship to rescue residents of the small town of Mallacoota who had fled to the beach when the flames could no longer be held back.

While the ship was able to rescue the majority of residents, the helicopter was launched to search for people cut off and survey the extent of the damage, the Royal Navy said.

HMAS Choules carried around 1,100 people - plus 117 dogs, four cats, a parakeet and a rabbit - along the coast to Melbourne.

Lt Cdr Grimmer, who spent six months in Sierra Leone as part of Britain's efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014-15, said being thanked by those they rescued had made the hard work worthwhile.

He added: "Watching people - everyone from a baby of two months to an elderly lady in her 90s - get off in Melbourne, relieved, saying 'goodbye', 'thank-you' and shaking everyone's hands was very gratifying, definitely the highlight and made all our efforts seem worthwhile.

"We recently winched down our aircrewman from 150 feet to a man on his porch. His wife had fled the fire a few days before.

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"She had no idea whether he was alive or the house was standing due to no power or communications.

"We were able to tell her both were safe - that was a wonderful feeling."

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