Shane Hunt follows the Northland Rescue Helicopter on Facebook and is always astonished at the stories he sees on there – and knows the feeling all too well about how these rescue helicopter services can save lives.
It saved his more than a decade ago when he was critically injured in a gyrocopter crash in a rugged Northland location.
Through his partner at the time who was a local journalist, he was offered a ride in a gyrocopter – an open helicopter/aircraft that can fly high above ground and create great scenic trips – which is what Shane had expected on his flight.
Armed with his camera going on his phone, Shane hopped aboard behind the very experienced pilot who had offered him the ride, and strapped himself in.
“The flight was amazing to begin with, we travelled over the family farm and I could see for miles. I was taking photos and footage on my phone and it was awesome. On the way back the pilot decided to show me a few tricks – after the first one, my stomach was reeling and I thought of asking him to stop but figured we weren’t far away from our landing spot,” he says.
“As he went into a vertical climb for the next trick, the gyrocopter was on its way up and just run out of lift. We were at least 120 feet up and we fell, fell straight down towards the ground. We hit the ground at about 100 kilometres an hour, nose first.”
The list of injuries he sustained is long – compound fractures to his tibia and fibula; broken femur; both knee caps shattered; both legs had turned inside out on impact; ruptured cruchiate ligaments; ripped rotator cuff on his left shoulder, which had a fractured socket; cracked eye socket, broken jaw and teeth; two brain bleeds and that was just the ones he can remember on the spot.
His pelvis had taken the brunt of the landing, with extensive damage – but still more injuries were to come from the aviation fluid leaking over his body from the gas tank that had been directly under his seat.
Chemical burns over his back and legs were exacerbated by the electric fence they had landed near, and that the rotor of the aircraft had become entangled in on landing. The shocks were making Shane convulse even though by now he was unconscious.
Nearby, his partner and the people she had been waiting with, ran to the crash site and her screams could be heard on the video on his phone as it had kept recording throughout the fall and subsequent crash.
“The sounds are horrific. I had to watch the video with my psychiatrist and it look me a long time to listen to it. You can hear my partner realising what she was looking at as she came to the crash site and screaming,” he said.
Sadly, the pilot of the gyrocopter was killed on impact.
The rescue helicopter was called by the paramedics who attended the crash and the speed in which he could be transported to help made a huge difference to ensuring he lived, Shane says.
“I was taken to Whangarei Base Hospital and was placed into an induced coma to start with. I have lost count of the surgeries I have had – and lots of implants too – I have had three in my jaw, bone grafts, and more,” he said.
“It was such a traumatic and stressful time – it took me a long time to come to terms with everything that had happened.”
Shane was in hospital for more than six weeks and had to learn to walk again, and start a long and painful recovery process, both physical and mental.
And throughout it all, the gratitude he has for the Northland Rescue Helicopter is still strong to this day.
“The pure speed that the rescue helicopter could offer me, to get me to help without ensuring more pain – it was amazing. The sights those pilots and paramedics must see, what amazing people to face that each day. I was a hell of a mess and they were just so professional,” Shane says.
“They lessened the suffering for me, that was huge. I can’t explain the level of pain I was in; it was something I will never forget, and they helped to get me to where I needed to go, and fast. It is such an amazing service.”