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HMAS Arrow's deadly sprint back to Darwin wharf

A cyclone Tracy survivor tells of the HMAS Arrows deadly sprint back to Darwin wharf.

Mitchell Abram, SABC News:, 9:24am Saturday 19 August 2017

Robert Dagworthy was captain of the Attack Class patrol boat HMAS Arrow when Cyclone Tracy decimated Darwin in 1974.

Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin in the early hours of Christmas morning, almost entirely destroying the city. Of the sixty six people killed, fifty three were on land and thirteen at sea. & Two of those were Mr. Dagworthy's men. Robert Dagworthy says the entire crew had to abandon ship.

"We were told there was a small cyclone tracking towards Darwin but [that it] would probably pass close by," Mr. Dagworthy said.

As a precaution, Mr. Dagworthy and his crew were ordered to go out to a Navy-provided cyclone buoy, roughly a kilometre out to sea from Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin.

"It's believed when you're at that cyclone buoy, you're there and no cyclone is going to cause [you] a problem." But Cyclone Tracy did cause a problem.

The Arrow's anchor winch and cable slips were ripped clean from the deck of the ship, leaving the vessel to the mercy of the waves and winds more than 200 kilometres per hour. "We could see red and green light as waves washed right over the ship — the rain actually took the paint off the metalwork," he said.

The ship's navigation equipment was also destroyed and an airlock in the pump to cool the engine also meant they could seize at any minute.

Mr. Dagworthy decided the best thing would be to ground the ship further inland, but getting there would be "purely guesswork".

"Running across [Darwin Harbour] with waves washing me down, we were forced down onto the corner of the wharf," he said.

Mr. Dagworthy gave the order to abandon his ship, and they used the waves to climb up onto the wharf. Despite his actions, two of his men, Able Seaman Ian Rennie and Petty Officer Leslie Catton were killed.

HMAS Arrow after Cyclone Tracy

By the time Mr. Dagworthy came to leave the ship, it had taken on so much water it couldn't reach the level of the wharf

"So I actually jumped into the water, was swept through the wharf and was found the next day on the mud flats," he said. HMAS Coonawarra Commanding Officer Commander Viktor Pilicic said he was surprised by how little is actually known about what happened.

"Listening to his recounting … was amazing and the fact he had to make that command decision to abandon ship … it's an amazing story," he said.

Teamwork Saved Lives

Mr. Dagworthy said if it was not for the teamwork of his crew, more people would have died. "We had been together in a small ship.

You become a really great team," he said. But he is worried people are beginning to forget what happened. "It's important to talk about it.

To state the facts as they really were," he said. "I want people to remember what happened to Arrow, and I want people to remember the two sailors who lost their lives. My two mates."

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