Richard Bateman: Heroic pilot

By Phil Taylor

Richard Bateman can't figure out what the fuss is about. Four months after the crash in the Southern Alps and back at his job as a flight instructor at the North Shore Aero Club, Bateman is still bemused.

"Probably a bit embarrassing," is his reaction to being among those acknowledged by the Herald as having made a difference. "I thought the whole [reaction] was a bit over the top and a bit unwarranted."

We beg to differ.

Bateman was taking student pilot Nicholas Eagleson through mountain flying tuition when their two-seater Robin aircraft crashed on a scree slope in the remote Gammock Range in the Mackenzie Country in August.

Eagleson was knocked unconscious. Bateman was feeling bad. "I was bleeding from my head and my wrist was out of shape," he told the Timaru Herald.

In fact, his wrist and some ribs were broken and there was a lot of blood from a loose chunk of scalp, the result of his head having smashed into the canopy. Though dazed, he managed to shut the engine down and retrieve from behind his seat a personal survival kit he takes whenever flying or hunting.

He looped tape from the kit over the top of his head and under his chin and put on a baseball cap to hold scalp and bandaging in place.

Next he freed Eagleson, whose legs were caught in the crushed fuselage, and laid him by a wing. Eagleson had regained consciousness but had fractures to his pelvis, feet, ankles, a knee, tibia and spinal damage. With temperatures cooling late afternoon, it crossed his mind help might arrive too late.

Bateman set off a locator beacon, hobbled down the scree sloop and headed down the valley, hoping to run into a fisherman, hunter or farmer, unsure whether his own injuries would overcome him. "I was losing a lot of blood ... I thought there was a fairly good possibility I could die."

Two hours after the crash and 5km across rugged terrain from the wreck, he found a muster's hut. It was dark when he heard a helicopter and used a lighter to set fire to dry tussock, the small blaze attracting the crew's attention. With the aid of night-vision equipment, Bateman's directions and the signal from the beacon, they soon found the wreck.

Eagleson's father, Don, told the Herald he suspects his son would have died and possibly Bateman too, had they had to spend a winter's night in the open.

Mary Bateman wasn't surprised by her son's action. "I would absolutely expect him to do that, if he could," she said. "He's very calm and collected."

Eagleson is in the Burwood Hospital spinal unit. His plaster was recently removed and he is in the process of learning to walk.

Bateman is flying again and says the accident hasn't unnerved him. They say the best remedy for a fall is to get back on. "I did that as soon as I could."

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