Sirens and Blue Flashing Lights

(by Kieran Kelly, from IMC Newsletter Winter 2004)
A helicopter rescue experience.

More times than not I hear it before I see it, it never fails to startle me then again that’s what it is supposed to do. I scan the windows front, side and rear then the mirrors, still no sign, and some times they approach head on, other times they come from behind. Eventually I catch sight of the blue flash its an ambulance. The closer it gets the louder it gets, as it flashes past I see an image in the rear window “Its Mine”.

When I was young I always imagined myself to be indestructible, apart from sprains, strains, torn ligaments and rope burn I had managed to get through half a century relatively unscathed. I never imagined for one minute that I would be the one in the back of that ambulance; it would have been morbid to do so.

The lead up to the few seconds that the fall/slip/overbalance was straightforward, seven o’clock and the last of the climbing gear descended into my sack. I moved off from base camp across the boulder field, reached the dirt track that leads down to the main track up the valley. As I zigzagged my way back and forth with my trekking poles in hand, I was facing down valley (not sure if that is a Zig or Zag), in a split second I fell over and came to a halt on my back. Looking down I observed a rather odd shape to my lower right peg; the tibia, while one bone was now in two parts an x-ray showed that the fibula has suffered the same trauma.

I remember thinking in stages as I lay on the ground waiting in anticipation for what was going to happen next, I just wasn’t sure how soon or how it would happen.

Stage 1: Pre-Rescue
The phones appeared, the call were made, the contact confirmation was received; I looked up at the sky then down the valley wondering how long will I be lying here. My companions made me comfortable then arranged to get my gear and car back to Dublin, Rob would drive, he seemed pleased when I said it was a blue Honda Civic. I was now in the care of Charlie’s angels (Lynn, Annette, Ramona) who provided the TLC and organised the area for the helicopter rescue.

Stage 2: Rescue
One pass to locate, then on the second pass the winch man descends in all his finery to announce that he will have to move the limb at some stage and it will involve pain. Just then mountain rescue appear from the four cardinal points like an assault team; discussions took place, roles were assigned and the team moved as one. I was give copious amounts of gas to breathe, encouraged to inhale deeply, the pain seem to disappear and I began to feel happy/giddy. With swift efficiency I was in the cradle with my leg covered in an inflatable similar to a swimming armband. Not once, twice but three times that I can remember the cables/cradle connections were checked by two rescuers; funny how you take account of these important aspects, self-preservation I suppose.

Stage 3: Airborne
Airborne and looking like I was on a collision course for the helicopter undercarriage, it occurred to me to put my hand up but I thought better of it, one damaged limb was enough to convince me that I was no longer indestructible. I need not have worried, the winch man had the cradle out and in the door in a flash; I was now lying on top of the undercarriage (floor) staring at the roof undercarriage. The noise in the helicopter was deafening so earmuffs are provided; communications between the crew is by radio, between the casualty and crew is by hand signals and raised voices.

Stage 4: On the Road
With swift efficiency I was transferred from the cradle to a trolley at Dublin airport and secured inside the ambulance, the winch man recorded some final particulars and wished me a speedy recovery. This was the final stage of the rescue. My carriage sped off, sirens blaring and light flashing, my destination no more than a few minutes away. Motorists are now ducking and diving clearing the way for my carriage and as I peer out the window I catch sight of my image in a blue Honda Civic.

My experience of being rescued was, although painful, not an unpleasant one. My companions were efficient in organising the rescue services, competent in stabilising my condition, and provided generous amounts of support both during and after the fall. The air rescue was professional in their management of the situation, they oozed confidence that was comforting and reassuring. “The mountain rescue”, what can I say about these Giants of Men, all volunteers who brave the elements year after year to locate and help those who are lost or injured in the mountains.