Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Year of the chopper rescues: Alice's knights in shining armour

More than 900 people have been flown to safety by the two Westpac Rescue Helicopters this year.

Alice Mooney is recovering at home and is grateful for the helicopter service after being crushed by a horse on November 23. Photo / Dean Purcell
Alice Mooney is recovering at home and is grateful for the helicopter service after being crushed by a horse on November 23. Photo / Dean Purcell

Alice Mooney saw the horse rear and then watched as it fell towards her and slammed her into the ground.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in the back of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter. A paramedic hovered above her telling her she would be okay - and then everything went black again.

The 17-year-old was one of 911 people rescued by the Auckland crews this year - the highest number of callouts logged in the 40 years the service has been operating.

She wanted to share her story to thank the crew and promote the great work they do around the wider Auckland area.

Alice was helping her mother Fleur Bracey train horses in South Auckland on November 23 when the accident happened. The pair retrain former race horses so they can have a "second life" and be spared from being put down when they can no longer race.

Alice was working with Joanna, a 163cm high horse, and trying to get her to walk with a new bridle.

"She doesn't really like new things and she just freaked out," she said.

"She reared up and fell backwards on to me. She's reared before but normally she just goes back down. This time she kept coming and she fell. I blacked out."

Alice broke her right femur and left wrist in the accident. She was rushed into surgery and had a steel rod inserted into her leg and a plate into her wrist.

She spent nine days in hospital. She cannot put any weight on her leg so hobbles around on a walking frame until she recovers enough to graduate to crutches. Then she'll have to have physio to learn how to use her leg again.

Mrs Bracey said despite the injuries, her daughter was lucky.

"What happened haunts me. I really thought I had lost my daughter," she told the Herald.

"It was horrible. She was unconscious, I was just screaming for help and trying to pick her up but I couldn't do it. I was just beside myself and then I called the ambulance."

Alice had a seizure as her mother called 111.

"They were trying to calm me down, then Alice gained consciousness a bit and started screaming. I couldn't see what was wrong and then I looked at her right leg and it didn't look right."

Mrs Bracey told the operator she was in a paddock and she didn't think an ambulance would make it out to her daughter. When St John paramedics arrived, they made the call to the rescue helicopter crew.

When she saw the red chopper approaching she was relieved. Mrs Bracey said getting her daughter to hospital quickly was crucial, and would not have been possible without the Westpac crew.

"When they came off that helicopter to help my daughter they were like knights in shining armour. They were so nice and professional - they were just wonderful.

"I did not realise that they would in fact arrive with a medical team and a mini hospital for Alice. Everything was so efficient with all the medical supplies, equipment and expertise.

"When we were in the helicopter the staff could communicate with me and reassure me that Alice was doing fine.

"In one moment your life can change and having that service available is amazing. I'm so surprised that it is not government-funded - it's an essential part of our health system so it should be."

As of yesterday the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter service had logged 911 missions for 2013. At the same time in 2012 there had been less than 750 missions.

Spokesman John Hooper said the crews' workloads had become "incredibly challenging".

"With the weekends typically seeing the team perform back-to- back jobs and we're averaging five missions on both Saturday and Sunday," he said. "With the holidays ... it'll only get worse. The volume of work has increased in every district that we cover."

The service relies on donations, and a number of events are held each year to raise money to keep the much-needed revenue flowing.

"These funds will be channelled directly towards mission-related costs that we'll incur over the summer," said Mr Hooper.

A crew and helicopter will be on the Coromandel for an extended period this summer.

"This relocated crew performed close to 60 missions out of this area last summer and we'd expect, if the trend throughout the year is consistent, to far exceed that number in the coming weeks," he said.

Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter

*Two helicopters available for emergencies: Westpac Rescue 1 and 2.

* Staffed fulltime and ready for operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

* Service has been running for 40 years and performs more than 500 rescues each year.

* Cover the greater Auckland region from Te Hana, north of Wellsford, to Meremere in Waikato. The Coromandel and Gulf islands are also on their patch.

To donate

Visit rescuehelicopter.org.nz or text the word chopper to 5339 for an automatic donation of $3

- NZ Herald

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