In pitch darkness, amid a raging torrent of icy storm water, Allan Sparkes could hear the cries of the terrified child somewhere in the flooded tunnel ahead. Disregarding his own safety he fought on.
Detectives Sparkes and Gavin Dengate were on duty in Coffs Harbour when the call came: a boy had been swept into a flooded storm water pipe.
At the site two boys told them what had happened. Without delay Allan plunged into the pipe and whilst tied to a life line allowed himself to be swept in the floodwaters towards what he and Gavin though was the trapped child. This life line proved to be inadequate and another life line was connected to Allan and he re entered the floodwaters to be swept some 80 metres to what proved to be piled-up debris. By this time, Allan had effectively dammed himself in and had become trapped. Through the combined efforts of Gavin and other rescuers he was able to be dragged back through the flooded pipe to the surface. Then word came: the boy had been heard further downstream.
With deliberate courage, Allan and Gavin re-entered the underground tunnel through a manhole which by this time had become flooded almost to the roof. Allan and Gavin battled their way to a place where six drains intersected. Some of these six drains were full, pouring enormous amounts of water into that area and onto the two men.
'I could hear his screams. It was the screams of a dying child, screaming for his life. I never want to hear anything like that again as long as I live. It was absolutely terrifying,’ Allan recalls. Amid rising water they quickly began to search each pipe.
'It was pitch black and freezing cold. The screams echoed round and round. That’s what drove me on.
‘After crawling some 30 metres against the flow of the storm water pipe I found him hanging onto a piece of timber, absolutely terrified, and yelled to him to let go. I grabbed him, wrapped him in my arms and I told him to thank God and then we just wept.’
By his actions, Mr Sparkes saved the child’s life, displaying the most conspicuous bravery in circumstances of extreme peril. He received Australia’s highest civil honour for bravery, the Cross of Valour.
Australian Bravery Decorations recognise acts of bravery by members of the Australian community who put themselves in jeopardy to protect the lives or property of others.