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Mon, May 23, 2005

Navy Hero Takes Over Command Of Aussie Troops In Iraq

Commodore Geoff Ledger Credited With Navy's Most Daring Rescue Ever

The 1370 Australian service members serving in Iraq have a new commander in Navy Commodore Geoff Ledger -- a veteran helicopter pilot who says his top priority will be saving lives and protecting soldiers. He already has a lot of practice in that area.

Ledger, 61, is credited with commanding the most daring, difficult aerial rescue in Australian naval history. It began while he was on a training mission in Singapore 22-years ago.

The then-lieutenant was called into action in the strait between Singapore and Sentosa Island, after a passing ship fouled a cable car line. More than a dozen people were stranded in the swaying cars, which themselves were in danger of falling more than 200-feet into the ocean below.

"The rescue was like a Spider-Man trick. It was the most hazardous rescue operation I had ever performed," Ledger told Australian reporters. The victims were exhausted and terrified.  "They had been inside the car for almost 10 hours. It was dark and the wind was 10 to 15 knots and the downwash from the rotor blades made the winchman and cable car swing wildly."

Eventually, the two cable cars indeed fell into the sea, but in the nine hours between his arrival and the cable's collapse, Ledger was able to rescue seven people. He was decorated by a most grateful Singapore government.

Now the job is a lot different and, in some ways, even more intimidating. "I was in control of the helicopter in that rescue. I am not actually in control of what happens around me here. It is like sitting in the back of the aircraft and you hope to God the pilot is going to fly the plane the way you want to go."



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