Ben McCauley has been part of the RACQ CQ Rescue crew for all three shark attacks.
Ben McCauley has been part of the RACQ CQ Rescue crew for all three shark attacks. Emma Murray

Rescue crewman tells of 'gruesome' scene at shark attack

SEVEN weeks ago, RACQ CQ Rescue crewman Ben McCauley helped save the lives of two people mauled by sharks in Cid Harbour.

Yesterday, an emotional Mr McCauley revealed how deeply the death of a third shark attack victim had affected the Mackay-based rescue team.

Mr McCauley was on all three mercy missions to the same place in the Whitsundays. The first two, just 24 hours apart, ended on a positive note. On Monday night that wasn't the case.

"There is a bit of deja vu," he said, comparing it to the rescue of Tasmanian woman Justine Barwick, 46, and schoolgirl Hannah Papps, 12, who are now recovering from their serious injuries.

"It is never a nice thing to go to. Definitely harder this one and it hits home a lot more when you can't go home to your family and tell them you saved a life."

Mr McCauley joined RACQ CQ Rescue six months ago. During the time he hasn't kept track of the lives saved nor the amount of rescue trips. Instead he tracks it in hours.

While he doesn't know why he keeps track of it that way, he does know more than 200 hours have been spent going "down the wire" of the chopper to retrieve patients.

As fate would have it, Mr McCauley said the crew had been on the pad, ready to attend a different job when they received the call about the shark attack on Monday.

"It was quite a gruesome scene. Definitely one of the more difficult ones for everyone involved," he said of what awaited them at Cid Harbour.

In less than 45 minutes the injured man, who had lost critical amounts of blood before going into cardiac arrest, was resuscitated twice. Only then could the rescue team airlift him to Mackay Base Hospital.

A CQ Rescue spokeswoman said Mr McCauley had been finishing a 10-hour shift on Monday when the remaining crew members called him back to join the rescue team.

Once back in Mackay he remained on site at the CQ Rescue hangar, working long into the night to ensure the helicopter was ready for emergency use.


Adding to the intensity of the rescue, the crew had to factor in fading light, an incoming tide preventing the helicopter from landing and low fuel levels.

"In an operational sense it is very difficult," he said

"At last light- obviously the pilot wants to get everything done while he can still see. It is a lot easier for everyone when you can still see what you're doing.

"The last couple [of rescues] were hard work as well."