When truckie Michael Thompson decided to take a different route than usual while travelling to a property to deliver fuel, little did he know that he’d be coming to the rescue of an elderly man lost in the blistering heat, deep in the harsh Australian outback.
Thompson is a driver for Lowes Petroleum. He was delivering diesel to the historic Cordillo Downs Station, near Birdsville, when rain in the east made him switch his route. He headed west and in doing so found a 75-year-old Sydney man barely breathing.
The Sydney grandfather had broken down, and after spending the night in the car, he left a note saying he intended to walk 30km to Cordillo.
“I followed his tracks for 13km or so. I knew he was in a bad way because the last 200 to 300 metres his tracks started going backward and forward, so he was clearly disorientated. There were probably four to five sets of tracks. I kept doubling back and found him unconscious in a dry gully,” said Thompson.
“The temperature that day was 47, 48 degrees Celsius: it was so hot I couldn’t touch the door handles to the truck. The stones on the ground were so hot they would burn your hand if you picked them up.
“To be honest I thought he was dead when I found him, he was red raw. It looked like he wasn’t breathing, it was so shallow. I ran to the truck and got some cold water and poured it on his clothes and he groaned – so I knew he was alive. Lucky my satellite phone was working so I rang my wife who rang the station and they contacted the Flying Doctors. He’d been walking around since 10 or 11am and I found him around 6pm.”
Help quickly came and three people were able to lift Terry into their four-wheel drive. By 7pm they were treating Terry in an airconditioned room and covering him with wet towels: following instructions from the RFDS.
“It was pretty close, another hour out there and it could have gone either way. For two hours he was unresponsive and then around 9pm he started to wake a bit but couldn’t move his arms or legs or speak properly. If I hadn’t gone in that way instead of out, he would never have been found; there was no one else on the road that day.”
Terry, who is the track boss for the Great Escape Oz, a charity car rally for Cure 4 Cystic Fibrosis, was mapping out a route for a charity rally when his car broke down.
Janet Brook from the station said Terry did nothing wrong, “His four-wheel drive was in reasonable condition and he had some food and water and both his wife in Sydney and staff at the Birdsville Caravan Park knew of his travel plans. The remarkable thing about this is that Thompson was not due to bring the diesel out for another day but decided he would come early.”
The seasoned driver, based in Quilpie in Western Queensland, has worked for Lowes Petroleum for over 13 years driving a triple road train and covering over 100,000km a year.
He has kept in contact with Terry, whose legs are still in bandages and is still undergoing twice weekly treatment at the burns unit at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. Terry is planning only one trip in the future: a catch up with his rescuer when he is fit for travel and border restrictions ease.
“I don’t want people to call me a hero,” said Thompson. “It’s what you do when you are out in the bush. His wife and family rang me and couldn’t thank me enough – that’s all you need.”