Riverwalk becomes 300m floating missile
Marissa Calligeros and AAPJanuary 13, 2011 - 12:28PM
The label ‘hero’ does not sit well with Doug Hislop
At 4am this morning the tugboat pilot had to drive out into the raging Brisbane River as a 300-metre section of the Riverwalk raced towards the Gateway Bridge.
Mr Hislop and engineer Peter Fenton travelled half a kilometre up the flooded watercourse to intercept the walkway, which had broken away from the bank overnight, before it could damage vital marine infrastructure, including Mr Hislop’s tug business.
A pontoon wedged into a jetty in New Farm this morning. Photo: Reuters/Mick Tsikas
The surging river was moving at about 10-12 knots, well above its standard speed.
“We had to contend with the turbulent water and whirlpools in the river. The normal speed of the river is about two knots,” Mr Hislop said.
The duo arrived in time and steered the walkway ‘missile’ away from chaos.
A large piece of the floating Riverwalk floats down the Brisbane River about 1am today. Photo: reader Conan Whitehouse
“We basically nudged the Riverwalk to straighten it up and get it under the bridge safely,’’ Mr Hislop said.
He and Mr Fenton were listening to the radio and waiting for the high tide when they jumped into their vessel, Mavis, after hearing the Riverwalk was on the move.
“We didn't get a call-out. We heard it on the radio just before 4am that it was coming down and I knew it would be a problem,” Mr Hislop told brisbanetimes.com.au.
Damaged and set to be demolished ... the floating Riverwalk. Photo: Michelle Smith
Brisbane region harbour master Captain Richard Johnson told the Nine Network the pilots guided the boardwalk safely past infrastructure, including chemical and fuel wharves, and the oil pipeline near Luggage Point.
"They did an absolutely fantastic job taking it right through the centre of the Gateway Bridge without touching anything at all," Capt Johnson said.
"That was an amazing job because, number one, there's no lines connected to the walkway itself. "Even when you have a line ... it's very difficult trying to manoeuvre, then keep it straight.
The floating Riverwalk is at risk of floating away and needs to be destroyed, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman says. Photo: Michelle Smith
"It is a very, very hard job even if you've got engines and propellers turning. They've had absolutely nothing."
The boardwalk was then guided successfully down the river and secured kilometres away at Nudgee Beach.
"It couldn't have been done any better," Capt Johnson said.
The Riverwalk before it flooded. Photo: Michelle Smith
For his part, a modest Mr Hislop said the risky exercise was “all in a day’s work”.
“Somebody had to do it,” he said.
During the emergency he called on two more tugs, but they we unable to reach the Mavis until it had reached Fisherman’s Island.
Police closed the Gateway Bridges three times overnight because of concerns the destroyed riverwalk could crash into their supports.
Queensland State Disaster Coordinator, Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, said authorities had initially deliberated scuttling the boardwalk.
"One of the options that was considered was to actually detonate explosives on the walkway to break it into smaller pieces, so that it would hopefully just sink," he said.
"After structural engineers for the Gateway Bridges gave reports on the potential impact it was decided to let nature take its course."
A police spokesman said the piece of Riverwalk, which was swept out into Moreton Bay, had rushed downstream at a speed similar to a CityCat, the city's renowned catamaran ferries which travel at up to 25 knots.
Brisbane's fast-flowing river has been full of debris over the past two days.
Yesterday, a large pontoon from Drift Cafe floated away as the restaurant sank beneath the river.
Earlier, Premier Anna Bligh said the Island Party Boat, a barge that held parties along the Brisbane River, was in danger of coming off its mooring.
Staff were reportedly on board the boat overnight and it remained secure, a police spokeswoman said.
- with Cameron Atfield