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By Jessica Cuthbert
The heat from the flames, the smell of the smoke and the pleading expression of a pilot. These are the vivid memories of the police officers who bravely pulled a pilot from a burning plane. 
While their heroic act took place in 2013, these officers remember it like it was yesterday.
The officers, with the help of others at the scene, pulled apart the burnt charter plane to free the pilot from the cockpit.
Sadly, pilot Gerry Gould later died from his injuries, however Mr Gould’s family was thankful the efforts of Senior Constable Paul Parks and Senior Constable Neil Bowles allowed them the chance to say goodbye to their husband and father.
Their brave actions earnt the recognition it deserved when they were awarded the Police Commissioner Bravery Award in March this year.
Paul had only been at the Geraldton Police Station for a few months before he was called out to the job on September 18, 2013.
He told Police News that in his 23 years in the job, this call out was the most confronting scene he had witnessed.
“It’s been a couple of years now, but I still remember the day vividly – it’s something that has stuck with me,” he said.
Paul said he and Neil Bowles were on patrol not too far from the Geraldton Airport when they got the call about a potential plane crash.
“Straight away when the job came through and we looked up and saw the black smoke, we knew it was something serious,” he said.
Being called to a plane crash at the airport, the officers had to brace themselves for anything. They didn’t know if the plane was small or large, how many passengers were inside or if there were any survivors.
When they raced to the airport under priority one, a crowd had started to gather. It was then they could see the small aircraft on the ground, no longer a fire ball but engulfed in a big plume of smoke.
“There was a lady there with a small truck nearby which had been doing some road works in the area. They were already in action with a water hose,” Paul said.
“We pulled up and asked if anyone had gotten out of the plane yet. They said no. “I’ve then grabbed the hose off her and gone towards the cockpit.” 
Paul said although it had been almost seven years since the incident, he could still recall all the details.
“The plane was all twisted and buckled but it hadn’t been pulled apart completely and wasn’t completely melted.”
He said the scene that confronted him that day was surreal. He said the thick smoke and the aircraft mangled on the ground on fire was like something out of a movie.
When he got to the plane, he positioned his head inside the cockpit to see who was inside.
“At this stage, I didn’t know what I would find or how many passengers would be inside. I didn’t know if there would be a child or if they were even alive,” he said.
“I looked in and that’s when I saw the man looking at me. Looking straight into my eyes and he was conscious and awake.
“I remember his expression vividly and when I looked at him, I think I was in more shock than he was. I remember thinking, okay there is a man inside this burning plane, he is alive and looking at me.
“I’ve looked at him and asked if he was okay and he said ‘get me out of here.”
By now, Paul was half inside the plane assessing the pilot through the thick smoke that filled the cockpit.
“I could see that the plane was melted, the metal was so hot and the fire embers were going everywhere. The smoke was so thick,” he said.
“There were fuel lines going everywhere and dripping on him, so I put the hose on his face – to stop any further burning. I took my sunnies off and put them on his face to stop the fuel and embers going in his eyes.
“He was extremely burnt.”
Paul said the whole time he was inside the plane, he never thought about the chance of a secondary explosion. 
“I didn’t even think about how there could have been a secondary explosion until months later. It was like everything faded away and the main focus was getting the guy out at the time,” he said.
He yelled out to his partner, Neil, to help him with the man and see how far away the fire crew and ambulance were.
The paramedics arrived shortly after but the fire crew were still minutes away.
Knowing they needed to get Gerry out immediately, together the two paramedics, Paul and Neil pulled the melted and charred plane apart to get him out.
“When we put him on the stretcher he was still conscious and we were talking with him. He wasn’t screaming out in pain and we knew his injuries were substantial. He was extremely burnt,” Paul said.
“The bottom half of him was so burnt, his clothes had burnt away. We knew he was in a pretty bad way but at least he was out of the plane.”
Paul remembers the scene as horrific.
“It was the first plane crash I had been too. I’ve responded to plenty of car crashes and terrible incidents, fatal incidents, but this was different somehow,” he said.
Gerry was taken to the hospital with Neil while Paul stayed at the scene to dowse the plane and preserve the scene for forensics. He was later taken to hospital to treat smoke inhalation and exposure to toxic particles as a result of the fire.
“When the pilot was at the hospital, he was able to see his family, his wife and daughter and they were able to say their goodbyes before he was flown to Perth,” Paul said.
“They were incredibly thankful that he was there, out of the plane and they were to say their goodbye.”
Gerry had suffered severe burns to his body and later died at Royal Perth Hospital.
“The family were very grateful of everyone’s efforts to get him out. They were glad that he didn’t die alone in the plane and that they were able to see him one last time. They really were so thankful and that was really special, I think that touched me the most – that we were able to provide them that one last goodbye,” Paul told Police News.
A few days after the incident, Gerry’s family came to see the officers at the station and brought chocolates and flowers, thanking them again for their efforts.
“The wife reached out to me a couple times and a few years later got in touch again. They were still thankful of what we had done that day. They knew we did everything we could,” he said.
“The daughter has a baby now and named him after Gerry. They were telling me about their lives since that day so many years ago, that was pretty special.”
Recalling on the events that unfolded that day, Paul said the job had impacted him mentally for some time after.
“Over my career I have attended a lot of fatal incidents and confronting scenes,” he said.
“It’s something that we all do daily out on the job and a lot of time don’t get rewarded for or recognised.”
This heroic act however, did get recognition. Paul Parks and Neil Bowles were presented a Police Commissioner Bravery Award.
I don’t know who nominated us. It was a surprise to hear about the nomination this year, seven years later but it was a really nice surprise,” Paul said.
“It was good to receive that recognition and support and a nice thing for our families to witness as well at the ceremony. They were very proud.”
He said the award was definitely a humbling accomplishment.
“Our men and women in blue are doing this sort of thing every day in the job and often don’t get recognised – so when they do, it is really nice,” he said.
The two officers were also nominated for a Royal Life Saving Award along with the two ambulance officers, and others at the scene, months after the incident.
Paul said looking back to that day, it was as if his surroundings faded away and his main priority was getting the man out.
“I knew there were a lot of people around and it wasn’t until later when I saw photos that I realised how severe the scene was and how many people there were,” he said.
“I only realised after how there could have been a chance of a second explosion. At the time none of that mattered, what mattered was getting him out.
“That’s what police officers do every day – we don’t think of ourselves, we go in to protect a person and save them. We get in there and do what we have to do and that’s something our frontline workers all have in common.”
Paul said he has been in the job on the frontline for 23 years and has loved every moment.
“I love being out there with the troops on the road – being a leader on the frontline,” he said.
Much like Paul, Neil, who now works at the Rockingham Police Station, also remembers the day quite well.
“I remember the smoke, there was a lot of smoke and it was quite black,” he said.
“I remember the whole area was just blackened grass where the area had caught on fire. The whole scene looked very surreal and we didn’t know what to expect when we got closer to the plane.
“It was quite confronting, I think it’s the most confronting job that I have come across.”
He said the Police Commissioner Bravery Award was a pleasant surprise this year.
“Getting that recognition was really nice and a really proud moment in my career. I’ve listened to many brave and heroic police officers’ stories over the years and always think to myself ‘oh wow that is amazing’ and now I have a story of my own to tell,” he said.
“It was nice having the family there seeing us get the awards, that was special.”
At the Commissioner’s Awards for Bravery ceremony in March, 41 police officers and six civilians were recognised for their bravery in the face of danger.
Among them was Detective Sergeant Keith Tarver who was awarded the Commissioner’s Cross for Bravery. Keith rescued his partner, Sergeant Alicia Curchin, when she was trapped in a police vehicle which had become engulfed in flames in 2004. Senior Constable Andrew Swift was another recipient. 
In 2017, Andrew was brutally attacked with a samurai sword to his skull whilst arresting an offender. He received significant injuries in the attack.
You can read both these incredible stories on the WAPU Website and in past editions of Police News.