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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Jordan Rice bravery award

Jordan Rice

In January 2011, during a deadly flash Queensland flood in Toowoomba, Donna Rice and her two sons were stranded on the roof of their car in a raging torrent of muddy water.  When a rescuer finally reached them, Jordan Rice is reported to have said "take my brother first" even though he couldn't swim.  A moment later, Jordan and his mother were washed away and drowned.

For a while, Jordan's courage was recognized and applauded by everyone including Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  Now Jordan's father John Tyson wants his son's bravery to be recognized by Australia's highest civilian award for bravery - the Cross of Valour.

But I'm confused.  Was it Jordan who told his rescuer to take his young brother first or was it his mother Donna?

Blake with PM Julia Gillard

Jordan's father John Tyson has written to Tony Abbott, asking for his help.

The award was established in 1975 to replace the British George Cross, previously awarded to Australians, and has so far only been awarded to five men.

A spokesman from Mr Abbott's office said "Nominations for bravery awards in the Australian Honours system are considered by the Australian Bravery Decorations Council which makes recommendations to the Governor-General.  The Prime Minister has approached the Governor-General to ask for his support in ensuring proper consideration is given to any nominations for bravery awards relating to this tragic incident."

At the inquiry in 2011, the court heard the frantic 000 call Donna Rice made as she and her sons clung desperately to their car roof. She is heard screaming in the background as Jordan begs rescuers to "hurry up, we're nearly drowning."  Donna asks 000 operator Constable Wheeler to call her a tow truck.  After first asking her the make and model of her car, Constable Wheeler said "Well you shouldn't have driven through in the first place."

The inquiry heard Constable Wheeler, a police officer of 19 years experience, had not asked Rice if there were other people with her or how high the water was before assigning the job as low priority. He said Donna's even vocal tone and her request for a tow truck gave him the impression that she was not in extreme danger. "There wasn't time for anything that day", he told the commission, "it was mayhem in there."

The weather bureau was also in trouble for not giving people fair warning of what was about to happen, but it happened so fast, there wasn't time for warnings.

A shattered Chris Skehan and his wife

Business owner Chris Skehan said that on January 10, he checked the weather bureau radar before heading out for a job about 2pm. "I just remember seeing lots of yellow on the radar, huge amounts of yellow over Toowoomba" he said.

He stopped his ute when he saw water rising quickly in parts of Kitchener Street.  He took off his boots and socks and waded across to an elderly female who was stuck and starting to panic and helped her to reverse out safely.

Then he saw Donna and her two boys and a man attached to a rope struggling to reach them.  He asked the man with the rope to give him a go and he eventually reached the car and tied a rope to the hinge of the rear driver's door.  He said the lady shouted "take Blake first" so he piggy-backed him to safety and went back for the others. Then the rope snapped and Donna and Jordan were thrown into the muddy water. They managed to grab hold of a light pole for a few seconds, but the force of the water was too great and they were both swept away.

There were many other heroes that day who risked their lives to save others who never got a mention, but they know who they are. And what about Donna's bravery of insisting that her children's safety came before her own.  

The Bravery Decorations Council will have a difficult job trying to decide who is more deserving of a bravery award, when it was just a terrible tragic event.