Chopper crash: It was 'like a roulette wheel spinning ...'

By Alison King -
Bill Sharp says he was lucky to crawl away from the crash. Photo / File
Bill Sharp says he was lucky to crawl away from the crash. Photo / File

Bill Sharp would love to change the events of April 19.

If he and BayTrust Rescue Helicopter pilot Art Kowalski had flown to Opotiki as originally planned, he may not have spent the past three months off work and in pain, and would most likely still be volunteering for the team he considered a second family.

Instead, Mr Sharp, an experienced helicopter crewman, has resigned from his volunteer position after the pair crash landed at Taupo Hospital four months ago.

But, he said, he would stay in his job at Rotorua International Airport where he works in aviation security.

Mr Kowalski has also resigned his position as pilot.

"I would love to go back and turn back time and relive it all over again and hopefully have a better outcome," Mr Sharp said.

The crew was stood down from going to Opotiki and instead were asked to transfer a patient from Taupo to Hamilton.

Mr Sharp was in the back of the helicopter when the tail rotor hit a tree and started to spin out of control while landing at Taupo Hospital.

Bill Sharp
Bill Sharp

"It was like a roulette wheel spinning around and around, then sooner or later you know it's going to stop.

"It happened so fast yet you relive it often and it's always in slow motion.

"One minute we were flying and the next Art was fighting to keep control of the helicopter. It was the sudden stop that hurt."

He said he remembered a skid, the machine turning as it landed.

In the impact he tore all the muscles and ligaments from his elbow and broke eight ribs down his back - tearing those muscles as well.

"I was extremely lucky, extremely lucky, to crawl away. I was probably so full of adrenalin that I was able to get to the launch pad."

He couldn't sleep for the first 10 days and returned to work only two weeks ago.

But, the hardest part of his recovery has been the admission he can no longer perform his crewman duties.

"It brought a few tears to my eyes.

"It's been a huge part of my life and this family's life.

"Because of my injuries I couldn't do the job anymore and probably won't be able to for another six to eight months down the track."

Mr Sharp joined the rescue helicopter crew in 2009.

He had been a Police Search and Rescue volunteer since 2000 and had amassed 30,000 on-call hours and 300 flying hours.

"I can say I've done a good job and given a lot of people a second chance of life. I did it because I wanted to do it. It felt right.

"I've met a lot of really neat people. We work with some truly professional people I admire so much, like the firemen, doctors, medical staff, ambulance officers - I could go on.

"This crash had had an impact on my life, but I'm not going to let it get me down."

Philips Search and Rescue Trust secretary David Wickham, who oversees five helicopter bases, said the organisation was "100 per cent" behind Mr Sharp's decision.

"Naturally it's a disappointment, but we totally respect and understand it and acknowledge the contribution he has made.

"Our volunteers are an integral part of the team. They commit to the job, and to the training, to a high level of professionalism."

The trust completed its investigation into the crash this month saying itwas a result of a collision of the helicopter's tail with a tree outside of the standard approach path, in combination with wind direction. The Civil Aviation Authority had not yet completed its investigation.

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