Chopper blade victim defies deadly odds

By Simon O'Rourke

The family were told to prepare for the worst, that Johnny Lowe would not make it through the night.

Hours earlier on Boxing Day, a helicopter's rotor blades had struck him in the head.

That night, Auckland Hospital surgeons told the family the situation was grim - that there was too much damage to his brain.

Johnny Lowe's father, mother, brother and three sisters began to lose hope. One sister who had just flown to Australia was told to come home immediately.

But miraculously, Johnny Lowe's condition improved overnight. It appears he will survive without any brain damage.

Tom Lowe, Johnny's father, said surgeons in Auckland Hospital had since nicknamed him "chopper", and were astounded at the recovery.

Neurosurgeons told the family they had never seen someone survive such a severe injury.

Tom Lowe said yesterday that by Tuesday his 36-year-old son was talking.

"He had tears in his eyes when I talked to him. He can't open one eye because of the number of stitches in his head."

His scalp had been taken off to relieve blood pressure and swelling on the brain. The scalp would be frozen and grafted back on to Johnny's head in eight to 12 weeks' time.

"I don't think it's really sunk in for him. He's talking about being back at work tomorrow. He's a pretty stubborn little bugger.

"He's got a hard head all right, he's a big strong lad," said Mr Tom Lowe.

"He can't believe it happened, he was positive he was well clear. Johnny's been around helicopters for 15 years."

The family were grateful to all staff at Auckland Hospital.

On Boxing Day Johnny Lowe had just finished loading six people into a helicopter outside the Puriri Hotel, 14km southeast of Thames for a scenic flight over the Coromandel.

Seconds later he gave the pilot the thumbs up. Passengers then saw him under a tree clasping his hands around his head. But they thought nothing of it, assuming he was covering his ears to block out the noise of the rotor blades.

"And then he walked back inside [the hotel] and tried to dial 111," Tom Lowe said.

It was understood Johnny Lowe had kicked off his boots and said to the cleaning lady, "I mucked up that time", before collapsing on the floor.

Johnny Lowe is highly regarded in the rural community around Puriri and Hikutaia.

"He'd do anything for you, he just makes friends with everybody," said a local. "Really, you just spend two minutes with him and he'll be doing something for you."

For 14 years he has worked for Graeme Wright Carriers, a transport and digger operating firm. Because of his skills with a digger, many farmers ask for him to do their work.

It is understood he also helps out with the local helicopter firm, Miller Helicopters at Matatoki.

Johnny Lowe helps out with aerial spraying in the area, so is familiar with the helicopter he was helping to load passengers on.

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