Terror From The Sky [31]

By Mark Pearson

Ever thought about the possibility of dying in your sea kayak? Well, I think five club members shared such emotions simultaneously on 13 July, on Lake Burley Griffin of all places. The occasion was the now infamous ‘implosion’ of the old Canberra Hospital. John Wilde, Jim Croft, David Cregan, Tony Peterson and myself were amongst a flotilla of about fifty kayaks, canoes, yachts and row boats on the edge of the 200 metre buffer zone. There was a relaxed carnival atmosphere as 40,000 Canberrans gathered to watch the first ever daytime ‘fireworks display’.

The first detonations went off with frightening volume. But several dark objects could be seen rising high into the air, and then, incredibly, coming towards us at great speed and dropping. One raced over and came down 25 metres behind me. I turned. round to see a 4 metre plume of water erupting within feet of a dingy containing three occupants. The middle aged man sitting high on the back could probably have reached out and touched the missile as it came down. As he blankly stared at the boiling water I realised that he had not even seen it coming.

Then the second round of explosions to level the nursing quarters. But this time I was not interested in the ‘spectacle’ of the dying building. I focussed my eyes on the air corridor directly in front of my kayak. A grim survival instinct had emerged; was this what war was like? We were sitting ducks. I thought about rolling if I had to but I’ll never know If there would have been time to react (and whether you could survive the loss of your backside is another matter entirely).

After it was over I had time to gather my thoughts during the paddle back to the cars. Tony seemed fairly relaxed about it all. I was puzzled by this, because Tony is not exactly relaxed when paddling close to those beautiful and benign rocks that skirt our seas. I wondered whether I had exaggerated the danger in my own mind.

But then the return home and radio reports of a death and serious injuries – and this to people on land two hundred metres behind our boats. News footage was shocking in that it showed just how many large, heavy projectiles had rained down – so many people were just so lucky. It was a day I’ll never forget.