Karijini Accident

Posted by on Apr 6, 2011 in Angels' Stories, Blog, Featured | Comments Off on Karijini Accident

Yvonne Deans describes The Karijini Accident

Last Thursday, 29th April, 2010, what started out as a day of gorging on gorges in the Karijini National Park ended more dramatically than we could ever have imagined. This turned out to be a day we will never forget.

My husband Allen and I saw and explored the spectacular gorges of Weano and Hancock; and after lunch went on to Knox gorge, our last for the day.

Call For Help

We had just started descending the rough, scree-filled, rocky, steep path when Michael, a young German, appeared from below, running with no regard for anything but speed. He shouted that there had been an accident and he was going to get help from the Resort/Campground, some 10 km. away.

He said that a 50 year old man had fallen 5 metres to the rock floor of the gorge and that his face was completely smashed in. We returned to the car and got our first aid kit and then hurried down to the bottom. The sight was horrific and his description was not exaggerated.

Back-Packers First On The Scene

How the man was not dead is something we still wonder at. Michael had gone down the gorge with Cliff and four young backpackers, Michael, Helie, Jules and Anouk, had managed to carry him across to a rock ledge so that he was in a bit of shade. Helie had his head in her lap and stayed there with him like that until he was moved some hours later. His jaw, mouth and nose were completely smashed and a mass of blood; his teeth were gone, there was blood over his shirt but he was able to move his legs. He could breathe through his mouth and that was only with difficulty because of the blood.

Hold On Nick – Stay Awake

We now knew the man’s name was Nick.  I took his photographer friend Cliff back to the top to await help and Allen spent the next hour and a half with Nick, feeling the weight of responsibility as the oldest one there and aware that if Nick stopped breathing or had a heart attack he would have to put his far from recent first aid training into practice. Allen helped Nick to sip water and somehow spit out blood to keep the airwaves open. Everyone there talked to Nick to keep him alert and to gauge how he was going. The backpackers were fantastic, comforting Nick, mopping up blood and keeping the flies away.

Allen joked to Nick about how lucky he was to have three beautiful girls cradling his head, mopping his brow and holding his hand.

Simone Brings Emergency Experience

At the top of the gorge, tourists arrived unaware of the drama below. One of them was Simone Milligan from Melbourne who we’d met at Ningaloo Reef and who turned out to be an emergency nurse. I took Simone down to where Nick was, enabling Allen, to his relief, to assume the role of helper.

Simone did an amazing job. As soon as she arrived with her first aid kit, she took control comforting and reassuring Nick and getting the helpers to get Nick into a better position, putting a drip in and clearing the blood from his nose. She appeared confident, comfortable and in charge. It was only the next day that she revealed to Allen and me how nervous she had been.

Fiona Directs Communications

I went back to the top where Fiona Gordon, Manager of the nearby Eco Retreat was competently managing the communications between the State Emergency Services (‘SES’), National Park Services and the St. John’s Ambulance.

Another tourist arrived – Marc Stoffel a singleted backpacker who turned out to be a doctor from Germany. At Fiona’s request, I took him down to the accident scene.

St. John’s Ambulance Arrives

The ambulance arrived from Tom Price. But instead of bringing relief to Dr. Marc and Nurse Simone it brought the revelation that the three people making up the St. John’s Ambulance team were the Tom Price High School Deputy principal, a clerk and a boilermaker. The ambos were volunteers. They were first aiders. Simone and Marc ended up attending to Nick the whole time until he left in the ambulance several hours later.

During the early part of the afternoon Allen and I went up and down the gorge three times each; taking people and supplies, including resuscitation equipment, up and down.

State Emergency Services Prepare The Rescue

I eventually stayed up the top and watched the rescue by the SES teams from Tom Price and Newman. Allen stayed down the bottom of the gorge with the ambos and the Karijini Parks Ranger Lenny and others, and helped carry Nick on a stretcher to the point where he would be winched 80 metres up to the top of the gorge. Allen said it was only 150 metres from the accident scene to the lift point but it took about 45 minutes to move Nick that distance because of the rough terrain, the slippery rocks in the river, overhanging trees, and not least, the falling night.

At the top, I had been appointed by the SES as the scribe and had to write everything down that was said by the rescue team (“except the swearing” they said – “leave out the swearing!”). I had a perfect view of the whole lift operation, watching the construction of the winching frame (the Larkin frame), the lowering of the 95+ kilo rescuer ‘Tiny‘ who was followed by a young female rescuer who was a first aider and whose role was to apply first aid to Nick on the way up. The ‘mules’ (i.e. the backpackers and the SES) hauled on the ropes to winch Nick and the two rescuers back up. There was a lot of shouting, commands, “stop”, “start”, “slow down”, “re-set”. The air was filled with tension.

Night Fall

At 7.02pm (by my notes!) in complete darkness and after over 6 hours without any pain relief, Nick was at the top of the cliff and the “mules” hand-over-handed the stretcher to the ambulance in the car park and he was taken to Tom Price and then flown to Perth by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Tribute To The BackPacker Rescuers

Fiona generously offered us a meal and a bed for the night at the Eco Retreat. We went back and shared a meal with 8 of the travellers who had assisted in one way or another. Afterwards Allen and I decided to drive the 40 km home to our own bed. Helie who had cradled Nick’s head in her lap throughout the afternoon went into shock and did not join us at dinner. At dinner where we were clearly old enough to be everyone’s parents, Allen praised the backpackers for their actions and I took all their email addresses although Allen really wants to write to their mothers to tell them how proud they should be of their children. (He did write that email after we got home).

The Aftermath

The events of the day were very emotional as well as physical, and have stayed with us very strongly. We are left a little empty – the accident happened, we helped, we went home and that was it. One week later, we have no idea how Nick is, we don’t know how the other travellers are going, or Nick’s mate, Cliff.

We wonder about the young people, especially Helie and the nurse, Simone. We are fortunate that we went through this experience together and so can talk about it again and again – and we have.

Written by Angel : Yvonne Deans

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