Lou Spann has been rescuing climbers stranded on Glass House Mountains for nearly 30 years.
Lou Spann has been rescuing climbers stranded on Glass House Mountains for nearly 30 years. Warren Lynam

'One mistake and we're gone': Mountain rescuer recalls drama

IT MIGHT be 21 years ago, but the toughest Glasshouse Mountains rescue he's ever done is still as vivid as ever for Lou Spann.

The Glasshouse Mountains SES team leader was awarded an Emergency Services Medal on Monday, in recognition of his service, as part of the State Government's Queen's Birthday Honour List.

Mr Spann has been a member of the Glasshouse Mountains SES since 1990.

The long-time school teacher has been up and down the famous mountains hundreds of times, carrying out countless precarious rescues.

But one on the front face of Mount Tibrogargan in 1998 sticks in his mind.

It was the middle of winter, darkness coming early, thunderstorms and rain.

 

Lou Spann has been rescuing climbers stranded on Glass House Mountains for 27 years.
Lou Spann has been rescuing climbers stranded on Glass House Mountains for 27 years. Warren Lynam

The call came in. Five people were stuck on the mountain, wedged on a 40cm-wide ledge, with a 150m sheer drop below them.

Water was cascading over the stranded climbers, the ledge creating a makeshift waterfall.

"That one really sticks in my mind because the degree of difficulty was through the roof," Mr Spann said.

"Any mistake was going to be life-threatening.

"It was a very technical rescue."

 

Lou Spann and the vertical rescue instructor team.
Lou Spann and the vertical rescue instructor team. Contributed

Passing in and out of the waterfall, Mr Spann and his team worked to extract the climbers.

Five rescuers went up, and they all, along with the five climbers, made it back down the mountain.

Mr Spann and his team were given bravery awards for their efforts.

He said the trust among the team was so strong, they were essentially closer than family, as they willingly put their lives in each other's hands.

 

23/01/08                         172315gAnxious wait as the families of Tiana Clifford (white top)and Kimberley Hill (croc men yellow top) both 16 went for a walk up Mt Ngungun at Glasshouse Mountain. The Girls have climbed the mountain several times before without having to call for help but this adventure became a little more when they left the walking track and got stuck on a lenge. The girls were glad to hear the familiar voice of SES volunteer Lou Spann who taught the girls at primary school.Photo: Jason Dougherty
23/01/08 172315gAnxious wait as the families of Tiana Clifford (white top)and Kimberley Hill (croc men yellow top) both 16 went for a walk up Mt Ngungun at Glasshouse Mountain. The Girls have climbed the mountain several times before without having to call for help but this adventure became a little more when they left the walking track and got stuck on a lenge. The girls were glad to hear the familiar voice of SES volunteer Lou Spann who taught the girls at primary school.Photo: Jason Dougherty Jason Dougherty/172315g

Mr Spann said none of his volunteering efforts would've been possible without the support of his family, who'd watched him walk out of numerous family barbecues to head up the mountain and save a life.

"There is a risk, you're in a vertical environment," the 57-year-old said.

"These things never happen in the best of conditions."

 

Lou Spann instructs new vertical rescue recruits during training on Mt Tibrogargan.
Lou Spann instructs new vertical rescue recruits during training on Mt Tibrogargan. Contributed

Mr Spann said he'd started to pull back a bit on the mountain rescue work and was focusing more on his efforts as First Officer of Beerwah and District Rural Fire Brigade.

He loved teaching others, in both the fire brigade and SES, and he said it was rewarding to teach younger volunteers to think their way through crisis situations, and achieve a safe outcome.

"It's been an amazing rush," he said of his time volunteering.



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