It was a walk Michelle had done with her dog Scrappy a dozen times…
…but this time, it almost cost Michelle her life.
Michelle’s traumatic plight began on a quiet Sunday afternoon as she walked Scrappy on a bush trail near her home. She’d done the walk many times before. But this time, 45 minutes into the walk, she noticed the trail was extra muddy from recent rain.
Michelle took extra care to navigate the wet trail with Scrappy, but she began to slip and slide in the mud. Desperately, Michelle grabbed a branch to steady herself, but it snapped in her hand, and she fell hard. “The momentum carried me off the edge and I began to slide headfirst down a very steep slope,” she recalls.
Michelle was sliding towards a steep and deadly drop. Just in time, her right foot caught on an exposed tree root, preventing a catastrophic fall. However, Michelle was left suspended and trapped upside down, in extreme danger.
Michelle will never forget dangling there and crying, with blood rushing to her head. From the top of the track, her dog Scrappy watched in worry. She was so deep in the bush that no one would hear her cry for help. Michelle’s mobile had slipped from her pocket. Apart from Scrappy, she was so alone.
Michelle tried to free her foot from the root. But with every move she risked sliding further down the hill, towards the sharp drop. Then something amazing happened.
I began blindly searching in the mud and leaves and found my phone and activated the SOS feature,” she says.
“Despite very poor reception, the operator could hear me! I told her what happened, and an emergency crew was dispatched to help me.
While waiting for the emergency crew to arrive, Michelle’s leg cramped and she moved it a little to relieve pressure. It came loose from the root, and she slid closer to the cliff edge. Michelle recalls screaming as she rapidly approached the sheer drop. But then, a vine wrapped around her body – bringing her to a halt.
At this point, devoted Scrappy the dog carefully made his way to Michelle and sat next to her to give her licks of comfort.
“I couldn’t move my neck, I was cold, I was sore, I’d have moments of calm, then moments where I’d just cry, then yell for help,” recalls Michelle. “I was losing hope of ever being rescued, but the operator kept reassuring me that help was on the way.”
Night came on and it was now pitch black in the bush. Michelle was so relieved when ambulance and fire brigade crews arrived. As her neck and back were injured, they took great care raising her onto the walking track. But it soon became clear to the ground teams that there was a problem.
It was so dark, muddy and slippery. The long trip to stretcher Michelle back through the bush in this challenging environment could put her and the crew in more danger.
It was decided that the only safe option was to call on Life Flight’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew to conduct a winch rescue.
As she was brought into the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, she felt a relief and joy she’d never known. It was the best feeling in the world at the worst time in her life.
You never know when you are going to need these amazing people in your life
Michelle was then flown to a nearby park where her 17-year-old daughter Rene joined her for the flight to Wellington Hospital.
A few months on, Michelle is doing well, but is still off work recovering from her neck and shoulder injuries. She never thought this would happen to her – but she now knows the unexpected can happen to anyone, anytime…
I am extremely grateful for all their dedicated work. A thank you just doesn’t seem enough. Please, if you can help them out with a donation, do it. You never know when it could be you they come to help.
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Read more about Westpac Chopper Crewperson – Mike
Westpac Chopper Crewperson – MikePrior to joining Life Flight in 2015, I worked for several helicopter operators around the world, working on wildfire, utility, aerial crane and logging operations.