Tug boat driver hailed a Qld flood hero
By Gabrielle Dunlevy, AAP January 13, 2011, 4:05 pm
The tug boat driver who averted a catastrophe by steering a 300-tonne piece of debris clear of Brisbane's major bridge is playing down his status as a Queensland flood hero.
A section of a floating boardwalk torn loose from the riverbank at inner-city New Farm on Wednesday night was sailing down the Brisbane River at an estimated 10-12 knots on Thursday morning.
The Gateway Bridges - massive spans that cross the river near the airport on one side and the seaport on the other - had to be closed to motorists three times due to concerns the runaway structure would crash into the bridge supports.
Witnesses say parts of the boardwalk broke off until only a 400-metre-long chunk remained, drifting out of control and gathering debris behind it.
Tug boat master Doug Hislop called into his Murarrie depot about 4am (AEST) to check that his equipment wouldn't be damaged by floodwaters at a near-record high tide.
He and colleague Peter Fenton heard via radio of the possible disaster posed by the obstacle and ventured into the raging river on the tug boat Mavis.
"We went up and straightened it up and got it through the bridge," he told AAP.
"It wasn't much harder than that."
Praise is being heaped on Mr Hislop, with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd planning to nominate him for Australia's highest award.
"What a feat of seamanship, whoever was the pilot of the tug boat deserves an Order of Australia," Mr Rudd told Sky News.
"I'll be the first one to sign their nomination form for an Order of Australia."
The story lifted the spirits of an emotional Premier Anna Bligh, leading her to dub Mavis "the little tug that could".
Mr Hislop was one of many local heroes from all over the state who had done remarkable things and could be recommended for a bravery award, she said.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the tug driver saved lives," Ms Bligh told reporters.
"The River Walk that you saw floating down the Brisbane River this morning was a piece of concrete that weighed 300 tonnes.
"If the tug that was steering it away from the river banks and away from the pontoons and other vessels had not been successful, or if it had broken lose without any guidance, you can imagine the kind of damage it might have done breaking into parts of the river system.
"So it was a very lucky save."
But Mr Hislop played down any talk of accolades.
He said the debris was more like 150 metres long - not 400 metres as reported - and easily cleared the bridge's supports.
"We weren't trying to be heroes. We were just trying to do what we had to do," he said.
But Brisbane region harbour master Captain Richard Johnson said the pilots had also guided the boardwalk safely past infrastructure including chemical and fuel wharves, and the oil pipeline near Luggage Point.
He said nudging such a large object without touching the bridge at all was no easy feat.
"It is a very, very hard job even if you've got engines and propellers turning," Capt Johnson told the Nine Network.
"They've had absolutely nothing. It couldn't have been done any better."
Ms Bligh said the government would consider how best to recognise all of the acts of heroism that were being performed in the flood crisis.
It was too soon to consider whether the floating walkway, a popular part of the city, would be rebuilt, she said.
Contributors to blogs are divided on the issue.
But "MrH of Brisbane" blogged on couriermail.com.au that the new walkway should be named after Mr Hislop and he should never pay for another beer in his life.
Water police helped guide the debris past a large commercial vessel at Doughboy Creek near the mouth of the river and secured it at Nudgee Beach.