The relief of hearing a chopper arrive

The New Zealand farming community relies on rescue helicopters as they work in isolated rural situations. Nowhere is this service appreciated more keenly than in the rural sector.

One summer afternoon several years ago, Dave Clouston was loading and stacking bales of hay at Whitecliffs, Sewlyn. He was being particularly safety conscious. “I remember when I was pushing the hay off the truck, waiting to ensure the truck driver was clear even through he yelled he was.”

Once the truck had driven off, Dave then proceeded to stack the bales and, as he bent over to clear some hay, he clearly remembers for some reason having an uneasy feeling that… ‘this isn’t a good place to be right now.’

The next thing Dave remembers is a huge numbing shove from behind as a 300kg bale of hay fell 10 feet onto him below.

“Your mind just seems to switch into survival mode”, says Dave. “There was no real pain at the time. That came later.”

During several traumatic hours while Dave was waiting to be discovered, he slowly realised the severity of his plight, “It wasn’t until I discovered that what I’d presumed was a rock under my sternum was in fact my right boot that the penny dropped. I wasn’t lying flat and my back must be pretty munted to have my legs folded under me in such a way!” Basically the accident had left Dave literally folded in half under the weight of the bale.

Finally, Dave’s father-in-law arrived to see how he was getting on. Dave says, “I remember his head suddenly appearing around the end of the bale. All I said was ‘I think I’ve broken my back and I’ll need a chopper’. He rolled the bale off me and shot away to ring for help.”

An ambulance arrived and after assessment, the Christchurch Westpac Rescue Helicopter was called. “To say hearing the chopper in the distance was a relief would be such an understatement. Just having the chopper there was like a huge release… I remember the looks on my kids’ faces as Mum and Dad were loaded onto the chopper and flown away, not knowing if they’d see Dad again.”

Dave was flown to A&E at Christchurch hospital and, with a confirmed broken back, was later transferred to Burwood Spinal Unit.

“If I had only one word to sum up what the Westpac chopper means to people in the poo, that word would be ‘hope’”, says Dave. “You really can’t underestimate the feeling of relief you get from just hearing the chopper coming. It’s sort of like the beginning of the end of the unknown.”

As a result of his injuries, Dave is now in a wheelchair and is using his extensive knowledge and experience of the farming industry as a local Agribusiness Manager with Westpac in Christchurch.

We cover Aotearoa, New Zealand

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