It was a near perfect early autumn’s day. It had been a windless and cloudless night and the chilly start to the day had us joking that it was better to still be in bed. That was soon forgotten as the three of us walked up Cirque Creek in the Darrans and soon got into tussock pulling. The objective for the day was a day jaunt up Mt Christina via the 1926 original route.
Something did not sit right with me that morning, but it was hard to put a finger on. After a couple of hours and facing a vertical tussock face, I decided to turn around, passing on my PLB to my two mates. They continued whilst I cautiously made my way back down. Hitting the river bed, I looked up to the sound of a familiar whirring noise. A helicopter was buzzing over Christina, a most unusual scenic route, I thought. When it started hovering over a particular spot, my heart leapt to my throat. I knew instantly that something had happened.
The chopper landed next to me as I approached the main Milford highway. A man hopped out and informed me that one of my friends had slipped and fell 40m, sustaining multiple trauma. The Te Anau chopper which did the recce had stropped in a medic who was assessing him. Back up from an alpine cliff rescue team had been called and the Wanaka team responded and were on their way. The rescue team were highly efficient and competent. Four hours after the incident, one helicopter was back on its way to pick up the patient and the medic to be transported to Dunedin hospital whilst the other retrieved the ACR team my other climbing friend.
This happened in mid March and my friend is actually still in hospital. He sustained a smashed up ankle (which has been fixated), a broken femur (now pinned), a couple of pelvic and sacrum fractures, five broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. Thankfully he only sustained a mild concussion and no internal injuries. We are immensely grateful to still have him with us and simply marvel at his optimistic attitude.
We are also very grateful for the rescue helicopters and teams which were able to respond so quickly to our PLB activation. This is just another of many success stories showing the value of having rescue helicopters nearby. We are concerned by the possibility of losing the service in Te Anau, and if you spend time in the mountains, you should be too.
I have just joined the FMC executive and am working with the rest of the FMC team to make sure the politicians know that the outdoor community opposes the plan to remove regional rescue helicopter services without discussion. (Learn more about the situation, and about how to have your say, visit the FMC.org.nz site.)