Host: Fortescue Helicopters
Written by Weldon Percy – Owner and Chief Pilot, Fortescue Helicopters.
On the 29th of July 2015 the pastoral and helicopter industry alike lost an iconic figure. Mr Ross McDowell from Rossy Rotor Aviation, a fellow mustering pilot and company in the Pilbara, was reported missing and later found to have passed away as result of an accident.
After he was reported missing a search was initiated by one of Ross’s other pilots. It didn’t take long for word to spread he was missing and there were 11 other pilots and helicopters who dropped what they were doing for the day and by 9am had made it to the nearest station to assist the search; a true testament to the respect he held in the flying and local community.
I was personally involved in the search and was also one of the first to the scene of the accident, which made for a very bad day at the office for me and everyone involved in the search.
I didn’t know Rossy extremely well but the association I did have with him was a good one. As a mustering Pilot of 40 years and as an operator in the Pilbara for 30 odd, Rossy always had a story for every occasion. You could ask him any question about anything; a grazier, a helicopter, how cattle would run in a certain area, and he’d always have a yarn starting with “Hmmm well young fella, it’s a bit like . . . . . .”.
I might have only met Rossy maybe a dozen times in the last five years but he was one of those people who was just always there and was always around. Only ever a phone call away if you wanted a good yarn or some advice. In a roundabout way, I found out after the accident that Rossy had christened me with a nick name some years ago, and everyone else in the Pilbara knew about it except for me! It seems he thought “Well Hung” was a fitting title. How he came to that conclusion only he will ever know, but maybe that’s a good thing!
At the memorial service held for Ross in Port Hedland it’s estimated there were 800+ people present. It was a very fitting way to pay our respects to our friend and included some pretty good Rossy yarns and a few poems. One of my favourites was by Kim Parsons of Coolawanyah Station and goes as follows:
A Tribute to Rossy Rotor
We know of this fella, they call Rossy Rotor
A bloke you’d ring when the Forest Ghost’s motor
His sense of humour was equal to none
With plenty of wit and loads of pun
Who’s combed his hair with a kitchen fork
And told good yarns at the table talk
He’s chased feral cattle and camels too
And always had time to talk to you
He’s famous for his radio twang
Those simple words through silence rang
Motacar Motacar Motacar
The help he wants from a distance far
How many do you want to go out there Ross?
Orr, one’ll do – okay then, we’ll head across
The Magic Pudding of the river pool
He’s in and out with his flying tool
The scrubby creek he had memorised
But those cattle, they seem to have Vaporised
There’s the Pilot Friendly and Regulation Red
And all different mobs his clients have bred
He’s been seen at the races of Marble Bar
A fashion icon he’s become a star
Swaps the work gear for something nice
And won the Beau, not once, but twice
And what about the powdered mash?
Behind the seat or on the dash
And those tins of tucker without a name
To guess what sort was a gambling game
But the time has come for me to go
For other with tributes they wish to show
His stories they leave a lasting trail
With hope makes justice in this tale
So now it’s time to shut the gate
And say farewell to a valued mate
A husband, father and family man
To Chrissie, Sophie and the Rotor clan
So here’s to Rossy for all he’s done
The life he’s had and the show he’s run
The mustering days and the lessons learnt
Our respect to you is truly earnt.
Thanks to Kim for letting me share his take on Rossy’s character.
The accident itself is still under investigation and as such I don’t think it would be appropriate or legal for me to make comment on the circumstances of it in any way.
According to the ATSB’s statistics our industry has lost 16 pilots since 2004. This mustering season alone we have lost two that I know of including Rossy.
Mustering at Bonney Downs. Photo: Weldon Percy.
Firstly as pilot and secondly as an operator I have a deep passion for our aerial mustering industry and would like to continue to be involved in it in some capacity for the rest of my life. There are many people in the exact same position as myself across the Australia, most with many more years’ experience flying and sadly more friends that are no longer with us than me.
So the following is just my perspective on what we can take away as pilots from these sad situations. Out of respect for those who have passed on doing what we all love to do, we need to take inspiration to the best we can be at our work in every way.
We have a responsibility as mustering pilots; to uphold an ever improving level of workmanship in our cattle handling, to represent our industry as true professionals, to provide a vital service to graziers, and most importantly to come home every night to our loved ones and family. Our industry has risks, higher than most occupations, there is no denying that. But if we can minimise as much of the risk as possible by ensuring we are doing the best possible job we know how in every aspect we will have the best chance of being here for the long term, for the cattle industry and for our families. Those that are no longer with us to enjoy our industry can then be proud we have continued to improve and prosper this great way of life.
Rossy had an old advertisement from years ago that said, “when the forest ghosts start to motor, time to call Rossy Rotor” so I think it’s fair to say that as mustering pilots when we see forest ghosts start to motor we will remember our mate Rossy Rotor.