Crash leaves wheelchair user stranded

By Kristin Edge

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A tetraplegic stranded on the roadside for two hours after a crash has graciously said "I was the issue" after emergency workers struggled to organise safe transport for him.

The incident has highlighted a need for a Northland-wide database of vehicles able to transport wheelchair users, a senior emergency services worker says.

A series of attempts to get Bryce McFall, of Mount Maunganui, and his 170kg electric wheelchair from the crash scene on the Mangamuka Gorge to his friend's place at Ahipara failed.

Kaitaia chief firefighter Colin Kitchen said a list of all wheelchair capable vehicles available to be used in emergency situations was needed to prevent a similar situation. Another complicating factor was a lack of cellphone coverage, Mr Kitchen said, which frustrated emergency workers.

Mr McFall had been on his way to complete one of his 'bucket list' items and fish on Ninety Mile Beach over Easter Weekend, when the engine in his modified vehicle cut out, causing the brakes to fail on the northern side of the Mangamuka Range, near Kaitaia, about 5pm last Thursday.

The 52-year-old tetraplegic tried to negotiate a few of the sharp corners but realised he was unable to maintain control of the vehicle and neither was his caregiver, who was a front seat passenger.

"There was no power steering either and the car was getting quicker and quicker. I made a conscious decision to drive into the bank to stop," Mr McFall said.

The crash spun the car round and left it hanging over a steep bank, while a trailer with a modified four-wheel drive buggy for the beach, remained on the road.

Following motorists quickly helped out, removing the uninjured Mr McFall and his caregiver from the car and taking the trailer off the road. A couple continued to Kaitaia to get cellphone coverage to call emergency services and returned later to comfort Mr McFall. Local tow firm Harrisons dealt with the vehicle and trailer.

But it was Mr McFall and his wheelchair that proved more difficult to move.

"I was the issue. The car and trailer were dealt with quickly.

"I could have been loaded into an ambulance but not my chair and without that I'm stranded. The chair is not something someone can just pick up and put in their boot. It's 170kg and needs specific gear to be lifted around with me in it."

Between police and firefighters a number of calls were made to a rest home, the RSA and St John ambulance - but none were available or could help.

In the end, Harrison's Towing sent an ambulance bus. However, as they were about to load Mr McFall onto the bus his friends from Ahipara arrived. The friend, Kevin Griffiths a quadriplegic, had come looking for his friend, after he had failed to turn up.

Mr McFall and the wheelchair were loaded into the van about 7.30pm.

Mr Kitchen, who is also a Northland District Health Board member, apologised to Mr McFall on the roadside.

"We did our best but we were just going round in circles. We need a list of businesses and individuals who have vehicles we can call on in an emergency involving wheelchair users so this doesn't happen again," Mr Kitchen said.

Mr McFall was able to achieve his dream of fishing off Ninety Mile Beach using his kontiki, and returned home in a wheelchair capable van that a friend drove up from Tauranga.

Mr McFall had nothing but praise for everyone who helped him and his caregiver: "I don't know whether you could meet nicer people."

Mr McFall was left a tetraplegic after a motorbike crash in 2002.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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