At approximately 10.35 am on 5 May 1998, a fire started in the main engine room of the HMAS Westralia as a result of a ruptured fuel hose which spread diesel fuel to an exposed indicator cock.
HMAS Westralia was approximately 20 km off the Western Australian Coast, near Rottnest Island, at the time of the incident. It was carrying a crew of 98. The engine room was drenched with carbon dioxide to isolate the fire and prevent it from reaching the 20,000 tonnes of highly flammable fuel on board. Four sailors were killed by acute smoke inhalation (carbon monoxide poisoning) within five minutes of the fire starting. Nine people required treatment for injuries, although many more suffered smoke inhalation.
A Coroner’s Court Inquest and a Royal Australian Navy Board of Inquiry found that the fire and subsequent deaths were caused by failings in the machinery and the actions of the company contracted to maintain it.
The crew fought bravely to save their ship but were unable to save midshipman Megan Pelly, Petty Officer Shaun Smith, Leading Seaman Bradley Meek and Able Seaman Phillip Carroll. RIP Shipmates. Never forgotten.
“Chief of Army“. Army Headquarters, Canberra. 10 April 2012.
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Today we remember the life and sacrifice of Lance Corporal Shawn Lewis, 145 Signals Squadron.
20 years ago, Lance Corporal Lewis drowned during a diving accident while deployed as part of a Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville.
Often we think of sacrifice in terms of those who lost their lives in warlike environments, forgetting those who suffered and died on exercises and on peacekeeping missions.
So today we remember Lance Corporal Lewis and his service. We remember the loved ones he left behind, and acknowledge the peace he sought to preserve. Thank you.
Lest we forget.
On 20 May 2005 the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) came to an end, and was replaced by the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL)
The “International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers“, May 29, is “an international day to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication, and courage and to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.”
It was so designated by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 57/129, on December 11, 2002, after an official request of the Ukrainian Peacekeepers Association and the Government of Ukraine to the UN General Assembly and first celebrated in 2003. The date, May 29, marks the anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in 1948 to monitor the ceasefire after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which was the first ever UN peacekeeping mission.
The day is marked at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City with the presentation of the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal, statements by the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, as well as a press release regarding the state of UN Peacekeeping missions and the continued necessity of their work.
Susan Felsche, a major in the Australian Army, was the first Australian woman to die on an overseas military operation since the Second World War.
Felsche, nèe Stones, was born in Brisbane’s Royal Women’s Hospital on 24 March 1961 to a family with strong military ties. She proved herself to be an excellent student, and by the age of 17 she had received sufficiently high marks to study medicine at the University of Queensland. In 1982 she was promoted to the rank of petty officer in the Naval Reserve and had planned to join the Royal Australian Navy as an undergraduate medical student. But in 1983 she joined the army instead, believing that it offered more challenging employment for medical officers. She had already undertaken wide-ranging medical training through a series of postings in Richmond and Townsville, and at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Brisbane when, in 1987, she began her duties as a Captain Medical Officer at 5 Camp Hospital, Duntroon.
In addition to her military career, Felsche undertook part-time studies and worked after hours at the Woden Valley and Calvary Hospitals in Canberra where she regularly worked with leading orthopaedic surgeons. She married a fellow army officer, Klaus Felsche, in August 1988 and the couple settled in Canberra. In 1991 she was promoted to major and given a posting to the Directorate General of Army Health Services. The following year she was posted to the 1st Military Hospital at Yeronga in Queensland as the Medical Officer in Charge of Clinical Services; not long afterwards she was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
In the early 1990s Felsche was asked to consider a posting as the Australian Medical Officer with the 4th Australian Staff Contingent to the Mission des Nations Unies pour le Rèfèrendum au Sahara Occidental (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, Minurso). She accepted the six-month posting, recognising it to be an ideal opportunity to apply her training in a demanding operational environment.
After pre-deployment training, Felsche, as part of a 45-strong contingent, left for Layounne, capital of Western Sahara in 1993. Her work there began with an attachment to a Swiss medical unit working out of tents in Layounne, she then moved on to deployments at United Nations observation posts under the control of Minurso. These deployments had their own dangers and discomforts: strong desert winds blew relentlessly and land mines in the surrounding countryside were known to move with the shifting sands.
On 21 June 1993 Felsche joined a small team of staff that were travelling to provide medical support from a United Nations tent base at Awsard, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. The small Pilatus Porter aircraft in which she was travelling developed problems on take-off and crashed, killing three of the four crew and most of the passengers, including Felsche. Her funeral was held in Redlands, Brisbane, not far from where she had spent much of her youth.
In memory of 1RAR LCPL Shannon McAliney, who died while serving on peacekeeping operations in Somalia on 2 April 1993.
The 21-year-old from Ballina was going out on patrol when another soldier handed him his Steyr rifle to hold. The rifle discharged and the bullet hit Shannon in the stomach at point blank range. Although he was wearing a flak jacket, he suffered massive internal injuries and, despite efforts to treat the wound, he died later that night.
Thank you for your service, Shannon. Rest in peace.
* Photo shows Shannon assisting a Somali woman at a food distribution centre in the Bay Region of southern Somalia during Operation Solace. © Australian War Memorial