"Holy moly, what's happened here?" That was the first thought that ran through Senior Constable Richard Hansen's mind when he arrived at a flooded causeway in NSW's Hunter region on Thursday morning to find a woman clinging to the side of a four-wheel-drive that had been inundated by fast-moving water.
On his own and with back-up about 25 minutes away from the location at Bingleburra near Dungog, the part-time Police Rescue Squad operator attached his body-worn camera to the bull bar of his vehicle and waded in to get a better handle on the situation.
The camera, set up so his family would not be left wondering what happened if the situation took a tragic turn, caught the incredible rescue, as Senior Constable Hansen saved three people in an act his boss described on Friday as "incredibly brave".
First, he pulled a four-year-old boy through the window of the vehicle and took him to safety. Then he returned for the 51-year-old woman who was holding on to the outside of the four-wheel-drive - stuck after her foot became trapped under a rock.
As he rescued her, she told him there was a 44-year-old woman still inside, with a pre-existing injury.
"That's when I rolled out the winch and secured it to the car, which gave me a little bit of stabilisation so I could get close to the car," Senior Constable Hansen said on Friday.
"It was quite difficult at that time - there was a massive undercurrent and it was washing my legs out at times."
After he retrieved the second woman and took her to safety, paramedics treated the trio for shock at the scene.
They were not injured during the incident and were said to be in good spirits on Friday.
Senior Constable Hansen, who has spent almost 20 years on the NSW Police force, said he received the initial call for help about 9.30am and arrived at Lyons Road about 15 minutes later.
He estimated the closest swift water rescue crew - the Dungog SES team - would take about 40 minutes to arrive after the initial call, meaning he got to the scene alone and acted immediately. His first reaction was "holy moly, what's happened here?". Then the experienced disaster response officer - who was on the frontline of the northern NSW floods earlier this year - went to work.
"I think it's important not to look at the big picture straight away - you just sort of plan and break it down into simple parts and they change throughout the whole rescue. Just [have] a calm mind," he said.
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Port Stephens-Hunter Police District will likely recommend Senior Constable Hansen be formally recognised for his bravery.
District commander Detective Superintendent Wayne Humphrey described him as "humble" and "a fantastic country cop".
"If Ritchie didn't do what Ritchie did at the time, this press conference would be an entirely different press conference. The potential for loss of life and serious injury was very, very high," he said.
"Yes, Ritchie is a part-time rescue operator but he didn't have the big white truck, he didn't have anyone working with him and he used what he had to rescue those three people - incredibly brave.
"He saved those three people's lives - there's no other way of putting it."
With the east coast of Australia set for a third consecutive La Nina summer, emergency crews have been repeatedly pushing messages of flood safety.
"I'm not critical of the driver, she made a decision - it was a poor one - but the causeway had been recently repaired," Detective Superintendent Humphrey said.
"People underestimate the power of flowing water. If it looks like it's going at walking pace, don't go through it - that's probably a rough benchmark.
"It's an incredibly dangerous thing to do, to drive through floodwater, so please don't do it."
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