16 May 2024

Cattle-mustering pilot pulls off miraculous dog rescue in outback Western Australia

11:33 am on 16 May 2024

By Charlie McLean for ABC

Australia, Western Australia, Pilbara, Karijini National Park, Dales Gorge (Photo by Anne Montfort / Photononstop / Photononstop via AFP)

Pilbara, Karijini National Park. Photo: AFP / Anne Montfort

A dog owner has described how a "needle in the haystack" rescue of his dog thanks to a helicopter pilot in West Australia's Pilbara region last month brought a "tear to his eye".

April 24 is a day Jamie Rooney will never forget.

Driving along a dusty 4WD trail near the remote mining town of Newman with his dog, Rocky, it was supposed to be a peaceful day of exploring.

But things started to turn when Rooney was forced to make a stop.

"It turns out I was going the wrong way, but as I got down to the end, I could see a riverbed," he said.

He decided to let the American Staffordshire terrier out for a quick swim.

"I went back to get something from the car and as I came back, he's gone," Rooney said.

"That's when I started to panic. I stood on top of the roof of my car, called out my dog's name, did a bit of a drive around, and I couldn't find him."

Four hours later, and growing increasingly desperate, Rooney had an idea.

"Earlier that day, as I was driving past the airport I could see all the helicopters going up … [so] I just went online for rescue helicopters and I just called the number," he said.

A 'needle in the haystack' rescue

Pilot Jack Poplawski was preparing to fly out to a different job when he received the news.

"I quickly got everything together, full of fuel, departed Newman," he said.

"Jamie had sent me some coordinates … flew out to those coordinates and met with Jamie on the ground with his car."

Rooney hopped in and the search was on, with both men keenly aware the odds were not in their favour.

"At the start they said, 'Look, it's a needle in the haystack', and I was very worried," Rooney said.

"Once you leave maybe 5-10 minutes out of town [Newman], it's just nothing. It's just vast outback land."

But after half an hour of flying, the experienced cattle-mustering pilot had a breakthrough.

"I managed to find a set of dog tracks," Poplawski said.

"They were a bit of a larger track compared to a standard dingo or a wild dog's tracks. I was certain they would have been his."

First sight of dog brings tears

Minutes later they spotted Rocky trotting beside a creek.

"That moment when I … [saw] him, I gotta be honest, I did shed a tear … Because I did not think I was going to find him," Rooney said.

"I literally couldn't live with myself, if we couldn't have found him, especially knowing that I drove out there."

It was a special moment for Poplawski too, who grew up with dogs.

"I know exactly how much a pet can mean to someone," he said.

The close call has convinced Rooney to buy a GPS tracker for Rocky.

"You can get these little ones that connect to your dog's collar. They just pick up with cell phone or satellite reception," Rooney said.

"That's what everyone should invest in."

- This story was first published by ABC.