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Tech

Fixing cable in the Outback - floods, Hercules and crocs

A cable break in western Australia would be tough enough to fix, but work crews had to fight flood waters, inadequate supplies, and a visiting crocodile.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor
Last week, Australian phone giant Telstra temporarily fixed a cable cut in the Kimberley region in an operation involving a C130 Hercules and a baby crocodile.
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The Logue River, 60 kilometers from Derby in Western Australia, broke its banks early Sunday morning. As the waters ran out, debris damaged a cable, cutting service to 4,300 landlines, 2,000 ADSL connections and 12 mobile base stations.

A Telstra team was soon on the scene with 5km of fiber, a spokesperson said, but realized that more would be needed since the access points (which would normally have been tapped for the repair) were submerged. The 15km flood front meant 17km of cable would be needed, an amount only available in major centers.

Telstra considered sending the drums of cable in on a truck, but ruled it out since the journey would take two to three days. It then looked at sending the drums, 2.2 tons and three meters high, via a commercial airline, but there wasn't availability on the Sunday evening.

The Federal Attorney General's office came to the rescue, organizing the use of an RAAF C130 Hercules for the job. With four of the drums of cable on-board, the aircraft lifted from RAAF Pearce, 80km north of Perth, at 11:00am Monday to arrive at RAAF Curtin, a base near Derby, at 5:00pm.

During this time, Telstra employees had also been working on the ground to patch lines as best they could, rerouting via the Northern Territory. By the time the aircraft landed, they had almost patched 3,000 landlines and enabled some mobile data services to come back on line such as EFTPOS and remote alarm facilities for the fire brigade.

A forklift and truck met the Hercules to transport the cable to the site. Although a lot of the area was submerged, a road reserve was still dry. Telstra decided to run the cable along the reserve in a temporary fix until the waters subsided. The team rolled the four 4.5km lengths of cable out and began the joining process.

The process was safely carried out, a spokesperson for Telstra said, and mainly on dry ground, but that didn't stop some workers encountering a three-foot crocodile, drawn to the floodlights.

"He just rocked up to see what the fuss was about," the spokesperson said, adding that a few crocodiles had likely been flooded out of the catchment. "They just shooed it back into the water."

The repairs went on. The strands of the cables were not joined indiscriminately, with emergency services receiving top priority. By 1:30am, all those were back on line. By 5:00 this morning, all services were up and running.

The flood waters were expected to peak tomorrow. When the level comes down, the workers will work on a permanent fix to the cable break.

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